Contained in a glass cabinet within the walls of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, this bell was traditionally rung 12 times outside the condemned cell in nearby Newgate Prison at midnight on the eve of an execution (ensuring, no doubt, that no-one had a good night’s sleep before their final morning).
According to an inscription on the cabinet, the sexton of St Sepulchre – who reached the condemned cell from the church via a tunnel under the road – recited the following verse (other sources have a longer a version thereof) while standing outside the cell:
“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow 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 in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul.”
The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. (Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but his money didn’t stretch that far).
A rather grim piece of London’s history.
WHERE: St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Holborn Viaduct (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Blackfriars and Farringdon); WHEN: Check website for service times; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stsepulchres.org