The Legend of Drakes Drum, Devon
Sir Francis Drake is one of Britain’s greatest heroes, though his extraordinary feat of circumnavigating the world and his major part in defeating the Armada should perhaps be balanced against his blatant piracy. When Drake lay dying off the coast of Panama in 1595 he is said to have ordered that a snare drum belonging to him be taken back to his home in Devon, Buckland Abbey near Horrabridge. Since that time a legend has grown up around the drum, with a similar ring to certain tales of King Arthur : either that when the nation was in danger it would beat of its own accord; or that if it were feared the nation faced grave danger, the drum should be beaten to summon Drake’s assistance.
There are various instances recorded when people have claimed to hear the drum: when Napoleon, a prisoner, was brought into Plymouth harbour; at the outbreak of WWI ; and when the evacuation of Dunkirk saw Britain at perhaps its lowest ebb. Various embellishments now attach to the legend: that when the German Navy surrendered in 1918 the sound of the drum was heard aboard the Royal Oak, though no drum was on board; that if the drum be removed from Buckland Abbey – as it was after a fire in 1938 – Plymouth will suffer, as indeed it did in the Nazi air raids shortly afterwards. Most intriguingly one version has it that if the drum is beaten, rather than defend the country, Drake like an old sailor ashore returns for a celebration!
Buckland Abbey is cared for by the National Trust, and the drum can be seen at the house to this day.
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