Joseph Glanvill and the Drummer of Tedworth: Setting a Foundation for Ghost Hunters

The First Psychical Researcher?

Some say that Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680) was the very first psychical researcher. It’s tough to settle on such historical firsts, so it might be safer to simply say that Glanvill was a man who believed witches and ghosts were real, and he chronicled accounts about them from this perspective. His own investigation into the Drummer of Tedworth haunting reads surprisingly like ghost hunts that would follow. In fact, his handling of this famous case, which involved poltergeist-like manifestations at the Mompesson house in the early 1660s, stands as a model — a foundation — for ghost hunts from the Cock Lane investigation conducted in the 1760s to several more from the Victorian era, roughly another century after that.

The Drummer of Tedworth is a tale often told as a true ghost story, popular enough to have appeared in everything from Horace Welby’s Signs of Death and Authenticated Apparitions (1825) and a journal titled Legends and Miracles and Other Curious Stories of Human Nature (1837) to the Dublin University Magazine (1848) and Henry Addington Bruce’s Historic Ghosts and Ghost Hunters (1908). Those are just a few of the sources I consulted to put together my own version of the tale.

A Begger with a Fake Permit

It seems that, in England of the 1660s, a beggar needed a permit to beg. Such a beggar wandered to Tedworth, now Tidworth, where he beat a drum in hopes of eliciting a handout or two (Some sources identify the beggar as William Drury, though neither Glanvill nor any of the other sources linked above do so.) It was there that John Mompesson checked the beggar’s permit and found it had been forged. His fake permit and drum confiscated, the man was run out of town. The drum ended up at Mompesson’s house.

About a month later, weird stuff started happening at that house. Disembodied shouting. Hard knocking on doors where nobody stood. And inexplicable drumming! Worse yet, Mompesson’s children started to be targeted. The blankets were ripped off of them while sleeping. A weird scratching could be heard near their beds. Then ghostly lights were seen. Then a human-shaped form with glowing red eyes!

Glanvill Investigates

This went on for over a year. Enter Joseph Glanvill, Chaplain to Charles the Second and Rector of Bath Abbey Church. Glanvill had fashioned himself into a specialist on supernatural phenomena. He tells of his visit to Mompesson’s house in a book titled Saducismus Triumphatus (1681), which is designed as much to prove the reality of witches as ghosts. (My American readers might recall that the horrible events in Salem, Massachusetts, were sparked in 1692. Witches were as much a source of panic in England in the late 1600s.)

After detailing the reported manifestations, Glanvill writes that, on his first night of keeping watch at the haunted site, he heard “strange scratching” as he ventured toward the bedroom of the haunted children. He confirmed that the children couldn’t have been responsible for the noise, and he checked around the bed. “So that I was then verily persuaded,” he explains, “and am so still, that the Noise was made by some Dæmon or Spirit.” After half an hour of scratching, the noise turned into heavy panting so heavy it shook the room! Glanvill searched for a dog, a cat, “or any such Creature in the Room,” but there was nothing. A linen bag moved. Again, no tangible explanation for it.

Moving to the room where the troubles were first noticed, Glanvill sleep well. At first. Then a loud knocking sounded. He asked who was there, but no answer came until he demanded, “In the Name of God who is it, and what would you have?” A stern voice answered, “Nothing with you!” In the morning, Glanvill was assured that no servant — indeed, no one at all — had been in that section of the house. The haunting even affected Glanvill’s horse, which had mysteriously grown lame and died shortly afterward.

All of this seems to fall within the realm of spectral phenomena (well, except what happened to the poor horse), and Glanvill’s nocturnal vigil and search for physical explanations followed standard ghost hunting procedure. I should say it helped establihsh that procedure. And wouldn’t it be a nice and tidy ghost story if it was then discovered that the beggar had vowed vengeance against Mompesson on his deathbed shortly before the manifestations began?

If Not the Beggar’s Ghost, Then What?

No, that man was still alive when the manifestations occurred. He was even safe from being accused of somehow faking the haunting because, during part of it, he could verify his location: the Gloucester goal, accused of theft. In fact, it was while imprisoned that the beggar heard of the weird events in Tedworth. His pride ruled his good sense. He bragged that he had bewitched the man who had taken his drum from him there. Indeed, this boast resonated with the day that Mompesson, responding to loud noises near the children, heard a phantom voice cry, “A witch, a witch!” Eclipsing the charges of forgery and thievery, the beggar was now tried for practicing witchcraft!

He got off easy, though. Glanvill reports: “The Fellow was Condemn’d to Transportation, and accordingly sent away.” In other words, the beggar was once again driven out, and this time, he was exiled from England. The manifestations in Tedworth seem to have stopped around this point. However, Glanvill ends the story with a more dramatic flourish. He says that, not only did great storms brew as the beggar’s ship sailed off, but the man himself was revealed to have owned “Gallant Books” that once belonged to “an old Fellow, who was counted a Wizard.” Glanvill’s account of the case — a primary source for the many retellings that followed — ends with a ghost story becoming a testimony of witchcraft.


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