Echo of a Distant Drum; Answers to Correspondents

Article excerpt

QUESTION How is Drake's Drum these days?

Has it sounded any warnings lately?

SIR Francis Drake (1540-1596), Elizabethan sailor, explorer and scourge of the Spanish Main, became a living legend through his exploits - most notably, his efforts in defeating the Spanish Armada and becoming the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

An old Elizabethan side drum, which measures just under 24in high and is embellished with Drake's coat of arms, accompanied him on his last voyage, to the West Indies, and was one of 13 made for the expedition.

Sadly, Drake died of dysentery during the voyage, but the drum was brought back to England and housed at Buckland Abbey, his home in Devon, halfway between his Tavistock birthplace and home port of Plymouth.

After his death, many legends grew up concerning Drake's supposed special powers, and those of the old drum. But it was Sir Henry Newbolt's famous 1897 poem that revived the old story of the drum's potential for defending the country: 'Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore, 'Strike et when your powder's runnin' low; 'If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven, 'And drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago.' There have been reported soundings when the drum beat on its own.

These include during the Civil War, just before Trafalgar and Waterloo, and in 1919 before the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow. The drum is also said to have sounded as a prelude to the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Since World War II there have been no reported soundings of the drum, which is owned by the people of Plymouth and is kept in a glass case at Buckland Abbey. There have, however, been many opportunities for it to be heard, as some three million people have paid homage to it and Buckland Abbey in the 50 years the home has been owned by the National Trust.

If the drum sounds again, we will be sure to alert the nation.

Hannah Jones, The National Trust, Buckland Abbey, Devon.

QUESTION Does a parking meter in Westminster earn more than the national minimum wage?

THE CITY of Westminster, in the centre of London, covers just 8.65 square miles, yet on an average weekday crams in around 470,000 workers and 300,000 tourists and visitors, as well as being home to more than 210,000 residents.

Westminster has 211 miles of street on which there are 38,000 car parking spaces, most of which are set aside for residents with permits. There are 8,100 on- street spaces with parking meters, which were introduced in the City in 1959. …