Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Chilling Echo of Church Bells...

After a rather intensive few days learning how to make, put 
together and edit sound clips, I have to create a 'mock' radio programme for a university project. I really enjoyed it, as we had to make a short audio guide of Royal Holloway, and the college does have a fascinating history. I've chosen to do my programme on Newgate Prison, and one famous criminal in particular, Jack Sheppard.

I've described Jack Sheppard's life in an earlier post, but I'm thinking of following his last journey from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn, near present-day Marble Arch. Along the way, one church in particular played an important role in this gruesome ritual. Opposite the Old Bailey (where Newgate Prison once stood), is the Church of St Sepulchre, one of the largest churches in the city. Because of its proximity to the ancient prison, a chaplain was often sent to convince prisoners to repent their sins. Occasionally, he would ride with prisoners to the gallows, giving comfort and praying for them on their last day on Earth. The night before their execution however, the chaplain would travel via a tunnel from the church to the prison, reciting this chilling verse against the sound of a bell striking midnight:

“All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you will 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 eternal flames be sent;
And when St Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord have mercy on your souls!”

In the morning, the prisoners were taken past the church and the chaplain blessed them, reciting "Lord have mercy upon your soul." This verse can still be seen inside the church today, but it is also commemorated in the children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Oranges and Lemons’.

I went to the church today to interview one of the administrators, a lovely and helpful woman who gave me some great information for the programme. But I cannot express my excitement at seeing the ACTUAL bell that the chaplain used, or the space where the tunnel used to be. This is why I love history, I get so passionate about little things like this that its actually indescribable. To think this was the real bell they used...SO EXCITING!!

The church also has a huge stained glass window dedicated to John Smith, one of the Governors of Virginia. Yes, that guy who fell in love with Pocahontas in the hugely inaccurate but awesome Disney movie. Smith is buried at the church.

Definitely worth a visit.

(pic from wikipedia -

No comments:

Post a Comment