The Drummer of Tedworth

In accord with Wessex Museum’s ‘Wicked Wessex’ season, consisting of objects on tour, of which, at Salisbury Museum we currently have a scold’s bridle and a Bellarmine witch bottle, found in Downton, I was intrigued recently to come across an illustration – ‘The Drummer of Tedworth’ by Joseph Glanville (Fig 1).

This was an exhibit in the ‘Spellbound’ exhibition at the Ashmolean exhibition, Oxford, and was the frontispiece to Glanvill’s book, Saducismus Triumphatus, which details the Mompesson family’s ordeal, recounted below. Here, the drummer appears as a zoomorphic devil in the sky above the home of Mr Mompesson, who stares incredulously.

My interest in attending this exhibition stems from my interest in Dr Simon Forman – ‘the notorious astrological physician of London. Forman was born in Quidhampton in 1552, eventually moving to London in 1589. During his time in Salisbury, he was involved in activities such as necromancy and geomancy, a Diary entry for 1588 reading, “This yere I began to practise necromancy and to calle aungells and spirits”. In his day, such activities would have been akin to witchcraft, however his punishments included no worse than 60 weeks imprisonment for bringing a book containing ‘bad and fond prayers and devises’(1) to morning prayer. In contrast, a near contemporary, a residential Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, Leonard Bilson, was pilloried at Cheapside in 1561 for practising magic and sorcery. Leonard Bilson lived in the canonry that preceded Arundell’s in The Close.

To return to ‘The Drummer of Tedworth’ illustration, this depicts a legend concerning poltergeist (2) activity affecting the family of John Mompesson J.P. of Tedworth (now called Tidworth) in March 1661. I had assumed that this haunting occurred in Tedworth House, perhaps the oldest property still surviving in Tidworth, but in fact it was Zouch Manor, which was owned by John Mompesson. This was a 17th Century manor house which is no longer standing, although it is thought that some of its stone may have been used to build the present day Zouch Manor and Tedworth House.

In the course of his magisterial duties, John Mompesson had brought before him one William Drury of Upcott, a former drummer in Cromwell’s army who had been making a local nuisance of himself in Ludgershall by beating a large drum in order to obtain alms, and for which he claimed to have a licence, but which turned out to be counterfeit.

Drury was found guilty and committed to Salisbury Gaol, the bailiff taking charge of the drum which he had sent to the Mompesson’s house while the latter was away in London. Immediately the nuisance began, with nocturnal drumming noises occurring both inside and outside the house, continuing until 1663. It was said that the children and servants were lifted up in their beds and let down unhurt, the chairs moved about and every loose thing in the children’s bedroom was flying about.

Mompesson was, of course, greatly disturbed by these occurrences and sent for Rev. Joseph Glanvill, Vicar of Frome, to conduct an investigation. Joseph Glanvill was a member of the newly-created Royal Society, thus making this one of the first hauntings to receive serious scientific scrutiny. Glanvill, although a believer in the spirit world, had considerable doubts as to the supernatural causation of these events, and suspected the children of tom-foolery. Glanvill stayed the night in the childrens’ room during which he heard “a strange scratching… and they [the children] could not contribute to the noise…]. He therefore concluded that the noise was indeed made by some daemon or spirit.

Drury was put on trial for witchcraft, but as he had been in prison (for theft) at the time of these disturbances, he was acquitted. He was, however, later tried a second time, and was sentenced to transportation. This sentence possibly reflected the judge’s own doubts, because the usual penalty for witchcraft was death by burning.

Later investigators also felt that the poltergeist activity had been created by the children perhaps aided and abetted by servants, or perhaps even imagined by Mrs Mompesson, who was pregnant. Interestingly, the poltergeist was said to have, very considerately, ceased its activity on the night Mrs Mompesson delivered her baby.

Notes and References

  1. The term ‘fond’ probably means foolish, and the ‘devises’ were unorthodox diagrams, suggesting that these were books of magic.
  2. ‘Poltergeist’ is a German term derived from ‘poltern’ meaning ‘noisy or rattling’ and ‘geist’ meaning ‘spirit’ and pertains to a type of ghost which throws things about and causes otherwise unexplained noises.