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The Little Drummer Boy of Richmond

The legend of Richmond’s Little Drummer Boy is a fascinating mix of discovery, disappearance, ghosts and myth. Even King Arthur puts in an appearance. Every self-respecting historic town should have a story like it, and I suspect many do.

Discovery

Building work on Richmond Castle started in 1071 with the completed fort dominating the surrounding area. At the time both the Normans & the local population were Roman Catholics so the Dukes of Brittany had strong links with the local Abbey at Easby. Legend had it that there was a tunnel leading from the Castle to the Abbey, some miles away, but it had never been found.

Until, that is, a group of soldiers uncovered what looked like the entrance to a tunnel. However, the entrance was tiny and none of the men could squeeze through. The Regimental Drummer Boy could, and was persuaded to take up the challenge. The plan was, armed with lantern, some food and his trusty drum, the boy would follow the tunnel, beating his drum as he went. The soldiers would track his progress above ground, following the steady beat of the drum.

Disappearance

It was a good plan and worked for a while as the sound made it’s way towards Easby and the Abbey. At around the 3 mile mark, however, the sound stopped. And never restarted. The boy was never seen again. Some say that a second boy went in to look for the first and disappeared as well. Others say that after the Drummer Boy disappeared, so too did the tunnel entrance.

Ghosts

Now, if you’re a pragmatist, you’ll believe that the tunnel collapsed on the poor little lad. If that was the case, his ghost lingered on. There were people who swore they could hear drumming day after day under Richmond, sometimes under the Castle, sometimes by the river, sometimes heading to the Abbey and sometimes under the town itself. And people still occasionally hear that drumming to this day.

Myth – King Arthur

There’s another theory about what happened, though. It had long been said that King Arthur and his Round Table Knights slept deep under the castle, waiting to come to England’s aid in her hour of need.

The drummer boy stumbled into the cavern where the sleeping King and his Knights lay, and his loud drumming roused them. One of the Knights raised his hand to stop the noise. “Is England in danger?” he asked. “No” the boy replied tremulously. “Then now is not the time to awaken King Arthur” said the Knight. Before returning to his slumber, he asked if the boy wished to join their band and sleep with them until they were needed. In his excitement and pride at joining such as illustrious group, the lad agreed. And there he lies to this day.

Legacy

I prefer the King Arthur version rather than a young boy being suffocated by a collapsed tunnel roof. Whatever the real story, however – and the whole thing may be a myth – a monument, known locally as the Drummer Boy Stone, marks the spot near Easby Wood where the noise stopped. There is also a 3 mile walk that passes the stone and is known as the Drummer Boy Walk.

The local legend is still celebrated in Richmond with children marching through town each year dressed as the little Drummer Boy in uniforms loaned by the Green Howards Museum.

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