St Sepulchre’s Church, London

St Sepulchre’s Church, London

The sight of St. Sepulchre's Church, once set opposite the infamous Newgate prison, chilled many a soul of passers-by for centuries as its bell marked the time of impending executions. Tolling at eight o’clock in the morning indicated that the executions were to take place that day, a fact Dickens duly observes in "Oliver Twist".

Before public hangings were moved to Newgate in 1783, the condemned criminals were hauled off to Tyburn, past St. Sepulchre's, where every death cart stopped outside the church and the prisoners received a nosegay.

For almost 140 years, there was another, rather more ghoulish tradition whereby a bellman was employed to go through a tunnel linking the church to Newgate on the night before the execution. Upon giving "twelve solemn towles with double strokes" on his handbell, he recited: "All you that in the condemned hold 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 tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls. Past twelve o'clock!"

That customs finally died out with the Newgate prison being demolished in 1902 to make way for the Old Bailey, but the handbell – that once added misery to the condemned – is still seen today in a case on one of the pillars inside the church.
St. Sepulchre's is open on Wednesdays between noon and 3pm or at other times by special arrangement. There is no charge but donations towards the church's upkeep are welcome.

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St Sepulchre’s Church on Map

Sight Name: St Sepulchre’s Church
Sight Location: London, England (See walking tours in London)
Sight Type: Religious
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

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