The Graverobbers & The Condemned

London

This is the 12th century church St Sepulchre-Without-Newgate (ie just outside), the largest of the City Of London churches. It’s also the musicians’ church associated with Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, and features in the rhyme ‘Oranges And Lemons’, but there are some macabre connections too…long associated with the Newgate prison, its Watch House had windows looking down into the graveyard, so that wardens could keep an eye out for the Resurrectionists who might be planning to body-snatch from it.

A tunnel in the church led into Newgate prison, and on the midnight before the executions, the sextant walked through the passageway and stood outside the cells of the condemned. There, he rang a bell twelve times and recited a warning prayer. The Newgate Bell can still be seen in the church.

In 1612 a tailor left an annual endowment to the church of 26s. 8d to ensure the bellman always rang the bell on the eve of execution days and again as the cart carrying the condemned left Newgate for Tyburn the next morning. The cart stopped outside St. Sepulchre’s and the prisoners were each given a nosegay and made to listen to a prayer of admonition.

One comment on “The Graverobbers & The Condemned”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Was the nosegay to ward off the plague? Certainly not to ward off executions. A prayer of admonition? I can just see the sexton or whoever shaking a finger in the face of the condemned, “Naughty, naughty! Mustn’t do that again!” a bit late in the day perhaps.

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