The Sad Tale of

Drummer William Lane

This story by Dawn Kirkwood appeared in the Thurmaston Times
and was passed on by Tom Jeacock.


My grandmother. Ivy Wheatley, originally told me the story of the drummer boy when I was a little girl. When I married and had children of my own I told them the story but then I began to wonder why the drummer was in the village - did he live here? If not, where did he come from? Who was his murderer and what happened to him? I decided to find out.   

The statue was unveiled by the

Mayor of Charnwood.


William Lane was baptised at the parish church of Waltham On The Wolds on 30th August 1797; the eldest of seven known children of John and Hannah Lane.

On 23rd May 1813, aged 15, William enlisted as a boy recruit in the 39th Regiment of Foot (Dorset), and joined the battalion in Weymouth. He was promoted to   Drummer on 24th July 1815 and, in April the following year, joined the 1st battalion in France where they formed part of the Army of Occupation after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In December 1818 the regiment was posted to Ireland where, as well as attempting to keep the peace, they provided protection for the excise men as they tracked down illicit stills.

William finally returned to England in September 1821 on recruitment duty and was stationed in Leicester, where he met and married Mary Warren at St Margaret’s Church on 13th July 1822.

On the fateful day of Monday 28th November 1822, William Lane had been recruiting at the Twyford   Statutes and, leaving his comrades in Syston, was on his way back to his wife in Leicester who had recently given birth to a son.

With his drum slung across his back, William reached Thurmaston village where he met three local young men outside the home of John Bishop Allen.

He stopped to talk to them and one of the lads began to tap on his drum, whereupon Allen appeared at an upstairs window with a gun in his hand and said “You chaps be off or else I’ll fire”.

William replied, saying ‘I am on my march, on His Majesty’s duty, and I hope you won’t shoot me; I hope you are only joking.”

Unfortunately unknown to William, Allen had been tormented and kept awake over several nights by the three lads, and was in no mood for joking; he raised his gun and fired, severely wounding William in the lower part of his stomach. After another brief exchange of words, he fired a second shot, this time wounding William in his arm.  William was taken across the road to a public house called The Plough, and a surgeon, Mr. Birdsall, (who lived at Syston) was sent for. However, William died from his wounds three days later, the day after his son, also called William, was baptised.

John Bishop Allen was arrested and committed to the County Gaol in Highcross Street, Leicester. He was tried at Leicester Assizes on Friday April 11th, 1823, where he was found “Guilty of murder, being in a state of insanity at the time of committing it” and was sent back to gaol to await sentencing.

He died on 15th October 1827 and was buried at Thurmaston. Friends of John Bishop Allen erected a gravestone (which can be seen on the left just as you enter through the gates of St. Michael’s Church) to the memory of the unfortunate soldier which bears the inscription:­

William Lane
Drummer in 39th Regiment of Foot
met an unfortunate death in the village
28th November 1822, aged 25 years.
He bore the character of an inoffensive man,
an excellent soldier, an affectionate husband,
and a faithful comrade.

The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1719 and amalgamated into The Dorsetshire Regiment in 1881.

The regiment was raised by Colonel Richard Coote in Ireland in August 1702. This was in fact a reforming of Richard Coote's Regiment of Foot, which he had inherited in 1692 from Viscount Lisburne's Regiment of Foot which was originally formed in 1689.

In 1751, they were numbered the 39th Regiment of Foot, and in 1782 took a county title as the 39th (East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot. In 1794 the regiment was captured, and reformed in Ireland the following year, absorbing the short-lived 104th Regiment of Foot (Royal Manchester Volunteers).

In 1805 a number of regiments had their territorial affiliations shuffled, with the East Middlesex title passing to the 77th Foot and the 39th taking the Dorsetshire title previously held by the 35th (Sussex) Regiment of Foot to become the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot.

From Wikipedia



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