HEADLESS CAVALIERS MAY lure ghosthunters to dine on Knorr soup in draughty hotels, but auditory apparations seem rarer than visual ones.
In April 1665, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary:
This was a false alarm. No such battle occurred until June that year off Lowestoft. Then, Londoners in boats on the Thames (doubtless quieter than the city’s streets) scored a perceptual hit by correctly detecting the sounds of distant gunfire.
Rumblings of less certain origin formed the legend of Francis Drake’s drum, whose disembodied beating Plymouth people claimed to have heard during times of conflict. Occasions included Napoleon’s arrival at the city’s harbour as a prisoner in 1815, the outbreak of the First World War, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the start of the Falklands War.
Other legends of portentous sounds have much older beginnings. Edric the Wild was a Saxon nobleman from Shropshire who appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1067: ‘he fought with the castlemen at Hereford, and did them much harm’. He didn’t win, but at least he lived up to his name. The story of his resistance to the Normans was popular in the county and became the root of local myths lasting into the 19th century. The folklorist Jacqueline Simpson relates an account by a Miss Burne:
Above ground, some auditory apparations had more ominous meanings. Jabez Allies, a 19th century writer, recorded the legend of the Seven Whistlers in Antiquities and Folklore of Worcestershire:
Allies guessed the legend’s likely origins:
London seems to lack tales of supernatural sounds. We don’t even have a Screaming Skull of our own. Maybe the city’s population has grown and shifted too fast for such stories to last long.