Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Execution Bell at St. Sepulchre-Without-Newgate

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Loretta reports:

Though my book Dukes Prefer Blondes, with its barrister hero, was published last year, my interest in the 19th C English criminal justice system has by no means diminished. During my stay in London, I’d planned to visit many of the sites mentioned in the story and look for inspiration for a future story. My husband and I started the investigation with a London Walk titled “Crime and Punishment.” Our guide on this occasion was Richard III (no, not that one: this was not a ghost walk).

Along with many other crime-associated sites, some of which I’ll write about eventually, Richard III took us to the Church of St. Sepulchre Without Newgate.

Standing so close to Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey, the church featured in public executions, and its bells tolled on the fatal day.

The night before was rather more macabre. Round about midnight, the St. Sephulchre’s clerk would travel across the street through a tunnel, to stand outside the condemned prisoner’s cell. There the clerk would ring the handbell pictured here, and recite to the prisoner the following comforting ditty:

All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die;
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St. Sepulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.
Past twelve o'clock!


St. Sepulchre Watch-House
There seems to be some disagreement about when this practice ended. The plaque in the church says it “died out in the early part of the 19th Century.” The London Encyclopedia tells us it ended in 1744.

The church was deemed to need a watch-house, to deter grave-robbing and, possibly, escapes. What we see today is a complete rebuild of the original 18th century structure, which was destroyed in WWII.

You can read more about the church here at the London Historians blog.


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