A strange tale, provided during an inquest, was published in the London Times on Dec. 11, 1873:
A singular circumstance came to light in the Bristol Police Court, on Tuesday. Mr. Thomas B. Cumpston, and his wife, Mrs. Ann Martha Cumpston, of Virginia Road, Leeds, were brought up for being disorderly at the Victoria Hotel and with letting off fire-arms. It was stated in evidence by the landlady of the hotel, Mrs. Tongue, that the defendants took an apartment at the hotel, on Monday evening, and retired to rest about twelve o’clock. About four o’clock in the morning she was awoke by loud screams and shouts in their bed room, succeeded by a report of fire-arms. She went down and found that they had both leapt from their bed room into the yard below—a depth of upwards of twelve feet—and then made their way to the railway station opposite.
Mr. T. Harker, the night superintendent on the Bristol and Exeter Railway, said the parties rushed into his office, partly dressed, crying out “Murder,” and they were in a terrible state of excitement. They told him they had escaped from a den of rogues and thieves, and they had to defend themselves. They were under the impression that someone was following them, and they made him search the waiting room to see there was no one there. Upon his sending for a policeman, Mr. Cumpston was searched, and a revolver and three knives were found upon him.
When asked by the magistrate what he had to say in explanation of the matter, Mr. Cumpston, who had an impediment in his speech, said he and his wife had been staying at Clifton; but, intending to proceed to Weston-super-Mare that morning, they came down and engaged a room at the Victoria Hotel, being near the railway station. They were alarmed at about four o’clock in the morning by terrible noises which they could not explain, and which frightened them very much. The bed seemed to open, and did all sorts of strange things. The floor, too, opened, and they heard voices. They were so terrified that they opened their bed-room window and leapt out.
Mrs. Cumpston, also, gave her version of the affair. She said they heard terrible noises at about four o’clock in the morning. The floor seemed to be giving way. It certainly opened, and her husband fell down some distance, and she tried to get him up. What they said was repeated every time they spoke. Being very much frightened she asked her husband to fire off his pistol, which he did, into the ceiling. The noises continuing, they got out of the window, but she did not know how. When they got outside she asked her husband to fire off his pistol again. They then ran up to the railway station. In reply to the Bench, the lady said she did not hear the noises so plainly as her husband. Ultimately, a Mr. Butt, who had been telegraphed for from Gloucester, attended the Court, and in reply to the Bench said the parties occupied a very good position in Leeds. He offered to take proper charge of them if they were handed over to him, which was ultimately done, the defendants being discharged from custody. No explanation can be given of this strange affair, and the belief is that it was an hallucination on the part of the husband.
If what the Cumpstons said was true, then the strange activity inspired a quick and desperate response. It can be said that it is similar to modern descriptions of the opening of a supposed ‘portal’ to another dimension. A more recent hypothesis may be ‘reality shifts.’ A reality shift is described as the sudden manifestation of objects appearing, disappearing, transforming and transporting. Shifts in reality have long been relied upon by those who practice magic, work as shamanic or energy healers, or believe in the transformative powers of prayer. A interesting reference to this phenomenon can be found at Reality Shifts: When Consciousness Changes the Physical World
The only other reference that I could find to this event was reported by the Bristol Daily Post:
On December 8th Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B Cumpston arrived in Brstol for a short holiday. They stayed at the Victoria hotel and were soon to encounter something so unbelievable that it both shocked and confused them so much that it caused them to be arrested for disorderly conduct from the local railway station soon after the event.
The couple told in court of how early in the evening they had heard strange, loud sounds in or near their room. The complained to the landlady, who also heard the noises but thought nothing of them. After the noises ceased they retired to bed for the night but were awoken at approx. 3.00am by the same loud noises. This time they were accompanied by the incredible sensation that the floor was giving way beneath them!. The couple shouted out for help and could not help but notice how strange their shouts sounded, echoing weirdly and being repeated by unseen presences. Mr. Cumpston then told of how the floor suddenly opened up and how it felt as if he were being dragged into it. Mrs. Cumpston managed to pull him out and the two of them made a hasty escape out a nearby window.
They were panicked beyond belief and were under the confused impression that criminals had somehow attempted to kidnap them. They fled to the nearby railway station where they were soon arrested by local police for disorderly conduct.
The landlady testified in police court that she had indeed heard the unusual noises, but she had no significan recollection of them. The police had checked out the Cumpston’s room and found nothing out of the ordinary. The court concluded that the Cumpston’s had suffered a “collective hallucination” and let them go.
To this day there is no plausible explanation for what actually happened to the Cumpstons.
Those people familiar with author William Hope Hodgson’s detective of the occult ‘Carnaki, the Ghost Finder’ would likely recognized some parallel with ‘The Whistling Room’ summary. The literary character Thomas Carnacki, the famous investigator of “real” ghost stories, tells the results of his peculiar and weird examinations. The summary has also been reprinted in numerous anthologies, including collections introduced by Alfred Hitchcock.
Hodgson’s work was inspirational to many science fiction and fantasy writers, including H.P. Lovecraft, Olaf Stapledon and Dennis Wheatley. Much of Hodgson’s works are being reprinted, since copyright protection has expired on most of his early writings.