wiltshire

Spirits in the Cotswold Hills

This post was first published on SPINE Online, October 17th, 2018.


The city of Bath and its surrounding towns have been host to a wide array of different societies and peoples throughout history—Iron age Britons, Romans, Saxons and Georgians, among others. So, it’s not at all surprising that the area still bears their marks, in architecture or in stories of a more ghostly nature. And if you believe those stories, then you’ll find that most deceased residents have decided to stick around.

The first, and perhaps the most infamous of the stories around Bath, is the legend of Sally in the Woods. So the legend says, Sally was a little girl who was locked in Brown’s Folly, the tall tower standing alone in the woods, and she died there.  Since then, people have reported seeing the apparition of a girl in the roadway, which is pitch black at night without lamps or moonlight coming through the trees overhead. Cars often swerve to evade the phantom and crash into the dark forest. As such, the legend lives on and residents continue to avoid that road at night, for fear that Sally will emerge in their headlights.

Photo courtesy of London Illustrated News. [Theatre Royal, 1888]

Photo courtesy of London Illustrated News. [Theatre Royal, 1888]

Another story, which has made the rounds in the past century, involves the Bath Theatre Royal on Sawclose, built in 1805, and still the most incredible work of Georgian architecture. I cannot personally attest to the accuracy of the following stories, as I did not see or feel or smell anything during my many visits as a child. However, others who have gone to see performances do experience some rather strange phenomena attributed to different spirits.

One of the spirits people report seeing is known to all as ‘the Grey Lady’. She sits in the top left box during shows, leaving behind the distinct smell of jasmine and a terrible depression that affects show-goers for days after. The Grey Lady is said to be an unnamed Victorian actress, who hung herself in the Garrick’s Head Pub next-door to the Theatre when she discovered her husband had murdered her lover.

Of course, we cannot speak about Bath without mentioning the outer towns. And this time, it’s Bradford-on-Avon, the quaint town built on a once thriving textile industry and the site of a few grizzly happenings. Where, in 1532, a local man was burned at the stake for heresy, now there is a zebra-crossing, or a crosswalk for those of you who are of a more North American persuasion. The road crossing is between a pharmacy and a charity shop. Residents and tourists pass over it daily, most without knowing what transpired there five hundred years ago.

Thomas Tropenell, the above mentioned Bradford resident, was arrested for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation—the belief that bread and wine given at the eucharist were quite literally the blood and body of Christ. For doing so, he was burned at the stake upon that very crossing. And sometimes it feels like the fires are still burning. People who cross the road often experience a sudden change in temperature, a sudden unexplainable heat on an otherwise cold winter day. Those who do feel it don’t know what to attribute the heat to, but author Jasper Bark theorizes that the execution of Thomas Tropenell left a permanent mark that can still be felt today.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

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.

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