Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Bristol Vortex


Peter Rogerson's research into ghostly and Fortean happenings reported in nineteenth-century local newspapers continues with this court report of an extraordinary series of events that feature in Charles Fort's Lo!;(pages 152 - 154 of the Fortean Tomes edition)

The Bristol Mercury 13th December 1873

At the Council-house, on Tuesday, before the mayor (Mr.T. Barnes) and Messrs. G. Wiles and C. Godwin, a young man and woman of genteel deportment and address, and who gave the name of Thomas B. Cumpston and Ann Martha Cumpston, of Virginia-road, Leeds, were brought up on a charge of being disorderly and letting off firearms in the Victoria hotel, near the Terminus. Mrs Tongue the landlady of the hotel was first called, and she deposed that the defendants arrived at her hotel about eight o' clock the previous evening and engaged a room for the night, bringing luggage with them. She was away from the house when they came and they retired to rest about twelve o' clock. 

 About one o' clock in the morning she was alarmed by a great noise in their bedroom and found them in a very excited state, but she succeeded in pacifying them, and they returned to bed. At four o'clock she was awoke by loud screams, and cries of murder, and by the report of firearms. Being much terrified by the uproar she got up, and went down to see what was them matter and she heard Mrs. Cumpston exclaim, "keep that knife from me”. They both jumped from their bedroom window into the back yard, a height of about twelve feet, then made their way to the front street, and ran across the road up to the railway station. She then spoke to a police constable Mr. Godwin. They left their luggage behind them. Mr Thomas Hawker, who stated that he was on duty as night superintendent at the Bristol and Exeter railway station was next called and stated that, he was in the booking-office about four o’ clock in the morning making up his report, when he heard a noise outside, and immediately the doors of the office were burst open a person rushed in. 

Someone tapped the window at his inner office, and screamed out "Murder". Witness was dozing at the time, and immediately went out on the platform see what was the matter. He there saw both defendants in the act of crossing to the express platform, and he spoke to them. The lady was in a very excited state. Her hair was flowing about, and neither she nor her husband had anything on their heads. Both of them were excited. They rushed toward him as soon as they saw him, and said they had been in some den or other, and had been waylaid by thieves, and were trying to get out of the way. 

He (witness) could not tell what to make of them at first, and he took them into the parcels office by the fire. They appeared in a very excited condition; having succeeded in pacifying them, he put some questions as to who they were and where they had been. They told him they had been in one of the worst houses they were ever in their lives, Amongst a lot of thieves and rogues, and they had to do the best they could to defend themselves. He took them into the waiting-room, but scarcely anything would pacify them. They were under the, impression that someone was following them, to do them some bodily injury, and both of them expressed themselves to that effect. The lady told him her husband had a revolver. They made him go into the inside room and examine it, to see that there was no one there and they themselves went in and searched the room. The lady, took up the poker to defend herself. 

 Prior to this witness had sent for a city policeman, and during,the time he got he tried to keep them as quite as possible. He understood them to say that they had come, from the Victoria Hotel, and he told them there was nothing there to harm them and that it was a very respectable house, but nothing would pacify them until two of the city police arrived. They. searched, the gentleman and took from him a revolver and some knives. The male defendant declined to ask this witness anything - and a similar question being put to his wife, she also said she had nothing to ask him, adding, "I have to thank him for his great kindness last night." 

Mr. Godwin (to witness)- Did the excitement appear to be from drink? 

Witness- 'No. I thought they were labouring under insanity. 

P.C.321 sworn, said he was called to the Victoria Hotel on Bath-parade, about five minutes to five o'clock that morning, and was told by Mrs. Tongue, the landlady that some parties who had been sleeping there had jumped out of the window and escaped to the railway-station. Upon proceeding to the railway station, he found both defendants to be comfortably seated before the fire in the waiting-room. He believed it was fright that caused them to run away. The witness produced a revolver and three knives, which he said had been found upon the gentleman. The revolver was here handed to Mr Brice (magistrates' clerk), who examined it. It was a small. weapon, but of apparently of highly-finished workmanship. 

Mr. Cumpston, being asked what be had to say in answer to the charge, spoke with apparent incoherency, and his wife explained that he had an impediment in his speech. He said they came from Clifton previous day, and, has intended to proceed to Weston super Mare that morning. A porter took their luggage and they asked him at what hotel they could spend the night. He said he could take them to a very nice one and mentioned the George and the Victoria. He took them across the line and instead of taking them to the George he took them to the Victoria. They went to bed about twelve o'clock, and about one they became annoyed by a disagreeable row. He could not explain it. They were both frightened. The bed was peculiar one. It opened, and did all sorts of strange things. And the floor opened, and they heard voices, and then they jumped out of the window. 

Mrs. Cumpston was asked to give her version of the affair, She said they were very much frightened about one o'clock that morning by what they heard, but the landlady came and reassured them for a time, and they went back to bed. About three or four o'clock they heard worse noises, but what they were they had no idea. The floor seemed to he giving way, and the bed also seemed to open. They heard voices, and what they said was repeated after them. Her husband wished her to get out of the way. The floor certainly seemed to open, and her husband fell down some distance, and she tried to get him up. She asked him to discharge his pistol to frighten anybody who might he near, and he fired his revolver into the ceiling. They got out of the window, but she did not know how, being so frightened; and when they got to the ground she asked him to fire off another shot, which he did. She certainly heard the repetition of their voices. Some one spoke every time they spoke. 

In reply to the magistrates, she said she did not hear the noises so plainly as her husband. In reply to Mr. W.K. Wait, who happened to be in court, Mrs. Cumpston gave the name of the parties with whom they were connected in Gloucester, and Mr. Wait thereupon remarked that they were most respectable people. After a short delay, a gentlemanly young man, who said his name was Butt, and that be had just come from Gloucester, stepped into the witness-box. In reply to the Mayor he said the defendants were good friends of his. They were people who occupied a very good position. Mr. Cumpston was an independent gentleman. Mr. Brice inquired whether he had any reason to believe that the gentleman had anything the matter with his mind Mr. Butt replied that he had not known him for a long time. Mr. Brice remarked that Mr. Cumpston seemed to show some aberration of mind. 

The parties were then discharged, and the weapons and other property found upon the gentleman handed over to Mr. Butt. From inquiries we have made of the police who examined the room at the Victoria Hotel occupied by the parties, there seems nothing whatever to warrant such conduct on their part. There is little doubt that the whole was an hallucination. 

The man at the centre of this story was Thomas Bowser Cumpston Jnr., the son of a Leeds linen merchant, Thomas Bowser Cumpston Snr., living at the time of the 1871 census at Woodfield House Potternewton, a posh suburb of the town (several of the Duchess of Cambridge’s more affluent ancestors came from there). He was baptised on the 13 October 1847. He married Annie Martha Carter, the daughter of a surgeon, in Leeds Parish Church on April 10 1873 and died on the 9th December 1893 at his home “Rosehurst” Grosvenor Road, Headlingley, making Annie Martha the executor of his £4,153 estate. Some further details of his life can be found here: 

This site however incorrectly attributes the “paranormal episode” to his father, which would have been problematic to say the least as he died in March 1873! The story has elements of a shared hynopompic hallucination, with elements of aware sleep paralysis and or night terrors. No doubt if it occurred today, the police would be testing the couple’s blood for not altogether legal substances.