Location: Grange Hill, Creech, near Tyneham
Legions of the Downs
In his book 'History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset'. The Dorset historian, Rev. John Hutchins writes an account of an phantom army seen in the parish of Creech.
He writes "On the top of the hill, south of and opposite to Mr. Bond's house, a very remarkable phenomenon was pretended to have appeared in 1678. One evening in December was imagined to be seen a vast number of armed men, several thousands, marching from Flower's Barrow over Grange Hill; and a great noise and clashing of arms was supposed to have been heard. Nothing appeared on the south side of the hill. They were pretended to have been seen by Captain John Laurence, then owner of Grange, who lived there, and his brother, and 100 more, particularly by four clay-cutters just going to leave off work and by all the people in the cottages and hamlets thereabout, who left their supper and houses, and came to Wareham, and alarmed the town, on which the boats were all drawn to the north side of the river, and the bridge barricaded. Three hundred of the militia were marched to Wareham; Captain Laurence and his brother went post to London, and deposed the particulars on oath before the Council; and, had not he and his family been of known affection to the government, he would have been severely punished, the nation being in a ferment about Oates's plot. This account I had from one Thomas Bolt, a native of Wareham, who then lived there, and perfectly remembered the particulars; he died in 1758, aged 59.
I have in my possession an original letter written by Mr. Thomas Dolman, I suppose then clerk of the Council, dated Dec. 14, 1678, directed to George Fulford and Robert Coker, esqrs. officers of the militia, wherein he tells them that Mr. Secretary Coventry had communicated their letter of the 10th instant, touching the number of armed men pretended to be seen in Purbeck, to the Lords of the Council, who commanded him to let them know that they took in good part their care in putting themselves in a posture of defence; and that the contrivers and spreaders of this false news were ordered to be sent for, to be dealt with according to their deserts. The council books were examined at my request by Henry Bankes, esq.1756, but nothing relative to this affair appeared.
In a collection of State Tracts, 1706, vol. ii. pp. 582, 583, is a pamphlet, published in 1679, containing arguments against a standing army. It has a few hints of this affair, which the author sometimes treats with contempt, calling it the Purbeck apparition, yet makes it an argument for a militia, and says above 40,000 armed volunteers assembled in two or three days time to have met the French had they been there, but that the court disliked it, and questioned the sheriff about it. This looks as if the posse comitatus was then raised. In 1756 this trifling story was revived, and made an argument for the necessity and usefulness of a militia.
This phenomenon seems to have been owing to the thick fogs and mists that often hang on the hills in Purbeck, and form grotesque appearances of large craggy rocks and ruins of buildings. At this time the evening sun might glance on these, which, assisted and improved by a strong imagination, caused the spectators to fancy what never existed. A like phenomenon is said to have been seen, 1707, in Leicestershire, and on Midsummer Day, 1735, 1737, 1745, on Souterfield Mountain in Cumberland, which made a great noise in the north."