Hauntings

The Beggar's Drum

We’re turning back the clocks, fair readers, to the year 1661. In the southwestern reaches of England, you’ll find a town called Tedworth (now called Tidworth), where the following tale takes place.

John Mompesson was a lover of peace, quiet, and tranquillity. When he heard of a beggar named William Drury drumming in the streets without a licence, he pressed charges against him. Drury was taken to trial and had his drum taken away by the authorities, which was kept at Mompesson’s house for safekeeping. He would not see Drury after the trial; Mompesson left on a trip to London. There would no comforts found in his home upon return.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Since locking Drury’s drum away, Mompesson and his family often heard the sound of men pounding around their homestead at night. Yet every time he went to confront these hooligans, the sounds stopped, and no one could be found. Eventually, nightfall began to parade in more sinister, chilling noises. These would soon escalate and join together to imitate the hollow heartbeat of a drum.

Although the rhythm carried out each night, the drumming was no longer what disturbed Mompesson and his family. A Bible had been thrown into the fireplace, and invisible forces would follow and attack his children. Beastly panting was often felt in the hallways. One of Mompesson’s servants managed to communicate with one of the forces, asking it to bring him a wooden board he needed for repairs. The force complied.

Image courtesy of  Saducismus Triumphatus  (1681)

Image courtesy of Saducismus Triumphatus (1681)

Another servant—also named John—was a favourite target of torment: his bedsheets would be ripped from him at night, and wrestling matches often ensued. A priest was brought in for a consultation, but even he could not offer any solution or comfort. Any holy interference seemed to agitate the unseen and amplify the activity. Before long, the phenomenon had grown strong enough to manifest a voice of its own, but for the most part only chanted: “A witch, a witch! I am a witch!”

Townsfolk were completely aware of the commotion: neighbours and passersby could hear the steady beat as well. None of them were personally afflicted, so this was strictly a phenomenon to torment the Mompessons. However, those staying overnight on the Mompesson property would collect experiences of their own.

Reverend Joseph Glanvill, a renowned skeptic of the supernatural, was invited to stay the night and bear witness to the events that had occurred for over a year at this point. He, too, experienced the disembodied panting, objects that moved inexplicably, and the children’s suffering (for the forces loved to torment them the most). Glanvill concluded that the household was plagued by a demon or malevolent spirit—a conclusion Mompesson himself had already come to. Glanvill would be of no use to him.

Mompesson believed that Drury had died and that his experiences were because of a curse the beggar set upon him for having his drum taken away.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Drury was not dead though; in the summer of 1663 the very much still alive Drury had escaped from jail—where he was supposed to be serving time for theft charges—and bought himself another drum. While far from being dead he did, however, place the curse on Mompesson, bragging about it wherever he went.

Mompesson once again brought Drury to trial, where Drury openly admitted to using witchcraft to hex the Mompesson family. In an attempt to barter for his freedom, Drury promised to lift the curse. But his freedom was not in Mompesson’s hands: Drury was sentenced to the colonies for other crimes he had committed.

No one knows for sure what became of him though: ship captains were reluctant to transport him due to his “supernatural capabilities”. And the legends fall short for Mompesson as well—had he finally been relieved? Or had the rest of his days been marked by the beating of the drum? There are no conclusive endings to this tale; the true ending had long been dropped from the years.


So was this a case of actual witchcraft, or simply a legend created to add colour to Tidworth? Let us know what you think in the comments, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.