Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Tompkin- a grisly myth

I was in conversation with two women from Tompkin near Bagnall and soon the subject of the skinned drummer boy came up.  The legend goes that during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion a young rebel Scots soldier was captured, killed and flayed by the locals who kept the skin. Some times the event is put back a further 100 years and the episode is set in the English Civil War.


I should start be saying what “flaying” involves. (Perhaps readers of a nervous disposition might want to look away now as I continue). The practice of removing the skin even when the victim is alive was known to the Assyrians who used it against their bitterest enemies. The Aztecs sacrificed slaves to the flayed Deity Xipe Totec- the God of death and rebirth. The cross bowman Basile who killed Richard the Lion heart suffered this fate. St Bartholomew one of the Twelve Apostles was martyred by flaying. The wooden door of Hadstock church in Essex is thought to date back to Saxon times. In 1791 a small piece of what looked like leather was found under the iron fittings of the door. It found its way to a local Museum, where analysis suggested it had a more gruesome origin. A label from 1883 tells the story of the piece of skin, suggesting that it once belonged to a Dane, a sacrilegious Viking, killed for stealing from the church. He was flayed and his skin mounted on the door as a warning. It turns out not to be true and the human skin was tested and found out to be leather after all.

 This leads me back to our local Tompkin or “Tom’s skin story”. I am inclined to discount it as a grisly fable. My main reason for doing this is that the story is so bizarre that it would have been reported fully at the time. The Jacobite Rebellion was well covered by newspapers and such a story would have been reported. The only reference to anything that suggests ill treatment in the area is reference in the Stamford Mercury to rebels abducting a local Attorney called Mills who was seized by the Highlanders from his home in Leek and forced to go with them. He was later found dead by a road between Garstang and Preston as they moved north. This also might be loyalist propaganda


I suggest that Tompkin or Tomkin was a local name which was used for the hamlet. I came across a reference to a John Tomkin who was a bailiff for a local lord Sir Roland Egerton who was the Member of Parliament for Staffordshire who had lands in Cheddleton and had been a supporter of King Charles. Tomkin appeared before the Parliamentary Committee who sat in Stafford in the summer of 1644 who were querying the support that Sir Roland was prepared to give Parliament and there was a demand for money from landowners. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Tumkyns. This was dated 1327, in the Subsidy Rolls of Staffordshire, during the reign of King Edward III. This confirms my hunch that it was named after some long forgotten Mr Tomkin.