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The Mysterious Drummer of Tedworth

Tales of various ghostly phenomena go way back in time. This is a mystery that has captured our imagination since practically time unremembered, and there are numerous cases that go far back into history. We constantly look over and discuss such cases, but many of them are lost to the mists of time, never to be fully understood. One very early account of an inexplicable, well-witnessed, and even malevolent haunting goes back hundreds of years way back to the 17th century. Here we have a case of ghosts, curses, strange phenomena, and possibly even demons.

This particular story begins in 1661, in the town of what was then called Tedworth, in Wiltshire, in the south-west of England. At the time it was a rather quiet and peaceful town, and a local landowner, magistrate, and justice of the peace by the name of John Mompesson very much wanted to keep it that way. However, there was once a wanderer and vagrant who came to Tedworth, along with his banging, raucous drum. The name of this newcomer was William Drury, a former drummer for Cromwell’s army who had fallen on hard times and had a tendency to walk around at all hours drumming away and belting out battle hymns. This noise was not welcomed by the locals or Mompesson at all, and the landowner took it upon himself to put a stop to this disturber of the peace.

Mompesson then brought Drury before a court and accused him of using a false pass supposedly signed by a Sir William Cawleys and Colonell Ayliffe, and swindling money from residents by demanding public assistance, which was sort of like welfare at the time. The court determined the signatures on the pass to forgeries, and his drum was subsequently confiscated, much to the displeasure of Drury, who begged and pleaded that his prized possession be returned to him. Drury managed to stay out of jail at the time, but his precious drum was not returned, instead being whisked away to be kept at Mompesson’s own residence until things could all be worked out, during which time Drury himself just seemed to vanish. The town would become quiet once again, but things were about to become far from quiet for Mompesson and his family.

Soon after this whole fiasco, Mompesson embarked on a trip to London to take care of some business. When he arrived 3 days later, he was in for quite a shock, as his wife informed him that some strange things had been happening in the house. She told him that she was often kept awake at night by anomalous loud noises at night, which she had thought were perhaps caused by robbers trying to gain entry. Not long after, Mompesson himself began to hear these noises, and the house would become plagued by the nocturnal banging sounds of what sounded like a drum, although no one else was there, as well as other less definable noises that sounded like scratching, thumping, and panting.

On one such evening, he was awoke in the night by a banging noise right on the other side of the door, after which he grabbed a pistol and warily opened it to find nothing on the other side. At that very instant the knocking continued on yet another door, but when that one was opened there was fond to be not a soul in sight. Mompesson did a full patrol of the premises with his pistol gripped tight and at the ready, but no intruders were found, and all the time he was taunted by these knocking, banging, drum-like noises emanating from seemingly nowhere. Things began to escalate when the drumming became more urgent, appearing everywhere, even on the roof or under the floor, and there also appeared the phenomena of moving objects, as well as the distinctive scent of what seemed like sulphur. Objects were also found moved about, and often in ominous ways, such as a Bible found atop the ashes of the fireplace and a knife situated upright in a bed. It also got to the point where the haphazard drumming began to take the form of actual tunes, playing for hours at a time, and it started to focus most often on the room where the confiscated drum was kept. Mompesson would later write:

[It would] thump very hard all in the outside of my house, and then it came to the room where the Drum lay, being my Mothers Chamber, where he was thrown under a board, for my children did use to knock and play with it, and she delighting [in] their company caused it to be put there. There it would be four or five nights in seven, and make very great hollow sounds, that the windows would shake and the beds, and come constantly within half an hour after we were in bed, and stay almost two hours, and when it came we could hear a perfect hurling in the air over the house, and when it went away many times the Drum beat the same point of War that is usually beaten when guards break up as truly and sweetly as ever Drum beat in this world and so continued two months. We often tried what prayer would do, and sometimes it would move a little way, and sometimes it would not.

These mysterious, ominous drumming sounds came nightly, and with increasing ferocity, and it would continue on like this for several months, only stopping for a time when Mompesson’s wife gave birth to her baby, after which it started anew and with increased magnitude and vigor. Whatever was behind the supernatural drumming became ever more powerful, often moving heavy objects and even on one occasion handing servants boards when they were engaged in construction work in full view of a room full of people, and in other cases objects such as chairs or other furniture would be actually flung across the room with great strength. Such occurrences became commonplace, and whatever entity was behind it did not seem to care if others were present or not.

Spookily, a lot of the paranormal activity seemed to be targeted towards the children, with these sounds often appearing in their room and their bed sometimes banged upon by an unseen force. The scratching sounds, which sounded to Mompesson like “iron talons,” began to follow his children around, and their beds were even reported as fully levitating above the floor on occasion. Perhaps most unsettling of all, the children began to hear a disembodied voice that would chant “I am a witch, I am a witch” over and over again in raspy, inhuman voice that seemed to emanate from under their beds and from beneath the floorboards of the room. Blue flickering lights were also seen to dance about the room, and Mompesson had the children moved to different rooms to avoid the spirit, but wherever they went these strange forces would relentlessly follow. On one frightening occasion, Mompesson was awoken at night by what sounded like a panting dog, which ran through his and the children’s rooms, much to his dismay.

The family recruited the help of a clergyman named Reverend Cragg to try and contain this entity, which they had come to think of as demonic, but this only further irritated the mysterious force, which allegedly tossed furniture and shoes about in a rage, and struck Cragg in the leg with a heavy staff, all the while seemingly immune to any and all attempts to exorcise it. Indeed, the strange entity began to gain even more power, on some nights so noisy that even the neighbors could hear the ruckus, and the servants began to be targeted as well. They would complain of their beds being shaken or of a cacophony of drumming, and the spirit seemed to have it particularly in for a servant named John, who it would relentlessly pull the bedcovers from and even engage in wrestling matches with, with the servant just barely managing to fend it off and scare it away with a sword of all things. John would say that he had actually seen his tormentor, and that it was a massive shadowy figure with red glowing eyes.

Before long, word of this “haunting” was traveling far and wide, and curiosity seekers began showing up. Very often, these visitors would also see the phenomena for themselves, such as was the case with one Sir Christopher Wren, who heard the drumming at night, and others saw objects move as well, with one person who stayed the night claiming that all of his coins had turned black, all of this convincing them of the reality of the situation. One of these visitors who arrived after hearing all of the spooky stories was a Reverend Joseph Glanvill, who also happened to be a member of the Royal Society and was a skeptic who arrived at the home with the intention of debunking the whole thing as nonsense.

By the time Glanvill arrived at the Mompesson home in January of 1663 this phenomena had been steadily going on for well over a year. After collecting eyewitness accounts from the family and the neighbors, he decided to stay at the house and try to determine what was going on, although he didn’t really expect at the time that it was anything other than overactive imaginations and trickery, possibly the children acting up. His mind would soon be changed, however, when he immediately began to witness these strange happenings for himself. He would hear the eerie drumming, as well as scratching noises and some unseen beast prowling about panting, especially in the children’s room. He would write of this:

It went in to the midst of the Bed under the Children, and there seemed to pant like a Dog out of Breath very loudly. I put my hand upon the place, and felt the Bed bearing up against it, as if something within had thrust it up. I grasped the Feathers to feel if any living thing were in it. I looked under and every where about, to see if there were any Dog or Cat, or any such Creature in the Room, and so we all did, but found nothing. The motion it caused by this panting was so strong, that it shook the Room and Windows very sensibly. It continued thus, more than half an hour, while my friend and I stay’d in the Room, and as long after, as we were told. During the panting, I chanced to see as it had been something (which I thought was a Rat or a Mouse) moving in a Linen Bag, that hung up against another Bed that was in the Room. I stepped and caught it by the upper end with one Hand, with which I held it, and drew it through the other, but found nothing in it at all. There was no body near to shake the Bag, or if there had, no one could have made such a motion, which seemed to be from within, as if a Living Creature had moved in it.

Glanvill would witness other strange phenomena as well, such as knocking, moving objects, and a disembodied voice, and at one point a piece of firewood purportedly became animated, after which it was shot by Mompesson and the hole bled what looked like real blood. One of the strangest was the death of his horse, which suddenly came down with a mysterious case of exhaustion and died soon after. By the time his investigation was finished he was thoroughly convinced that the home had been invaded by a spirit or even a demon. Glanvill would later compile his story in a work entitled A Blow at Modern Sadducism, or Saducismus Triumphatus, and it is an important element to the case as a whole. Mompesson himself had already been fairly convinced that he was under siege by some sort of malevolent spirit or demon, and considering the drumming that was a big part of it all he began to suspect that none other than the disgraced drummer Drury was somehow behind the whole thing.

When Drury was eventually located, it turned out that he had since been locked up in Gloucester, where he was doing time for theft. At the time he openly admitted to having used the powers of witchcraft to place a hex upon Mompesson in revenge for having had his beloved drum stripped from him, and he was subsequently put on trial for the crime of witchcraft, during which there was much witness testimony to the strange goings on that had transpired at the Mompesson household, as well as evidence that Drury had had dealings with mystical gypsies. During this time, Drury tried making a deal with Mompesson, saying that he would lift the malicious curse in exchange for his freedom, but in the end this did no good, and he was whisked away to an English colony to be tried for other crimes. Some stories suggest that most ship captains claimed that Drury could control storms and were terrified to transport him. After this, the ultimate fate of Drury remains mysterious, and no one really knows what happened to him, his fate just as mysterious as the entity he purportedly spawned.

In the decades since, the case of the Drummer of Tedworth has become a persistent English legend and a curious early haunting from another time, but it has also attracted its share of criticism. The whole case has widely been derided as a possible hoax, something set into motion by perhaps even Mompesson himself as a way to gain fame and profit. It could also have been a yarn spun by the house servants, in order to mess with the credibility of their master, or even a hoax orchestrated by Glanvill himself. For their part, the family itself always remained adamant that the story was completely true, but it is so buried by the years that it is impossible to tell what is going on. It is amazing that a case that is hundreds of years old has come to be known as one of the most well-known hauntings of all time. Yet it is this time that has sort of faded and buried it to history. What went on in that town all of those years ago? Is there anything to it or is it all urban legend and myth? We may never know for sure.