St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

For the ancient and civil parishes, see St Sepulchre (parish).
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate
Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Photo of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate
Location Holborn Viaduct
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founded 12th century
Dedication Edmund the Martyr
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Heritage designation Grade I listed building
Style Gothic (tower)[1]
Years built 15th century (rebuilt)
Completed 1670 (reopened)[2]
Number of towers 1
Bells 12
Diocese London
Province Canterbury
Priest in charge David Ingall

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Holborn), is an Anglican church in the City of London. It is located on Holborn Viaduct, almost opposite the Old Bailey. In medieval times it stood just outside ("without") the now-demolished old city wall, near the Newgate. It has been a living of St John's College, Oxford, since 1622 and is part of the area designated the "Newgate Street Conservation Area" (No.6) by the City of London Corporation.[3]


The original Saxon church on the site was dedicated to St Edmund the King and Martyr. In 1137 it was given to the Priory of St Bartholomew. During the Crusades in the 12th century the church was renamed St Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre, in reference to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, by soldiers who passed by the church on the way to the Holy Lands.[2] The name eventually became contracted to St Sepulchre.

The church is today the largest parish church in the City. It was completely rebuilt in the 15th century but was gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666,[4] which left only the outer walls, the tower and the porch standing[5] -. Modified in the 18th century, the church underwent extensive restoration in 1878. It narrowly avoided destruction in the Second World War, although the 18th-century watch-house in its churchyard (erected to deter grave-robbers) was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

The interior of the church is a wide, roomy space with a coffered ceiling[6] installed in 1834. The Vicars' old residence has recently been renovated into a modern living quarter.

The interior of St Sepulchre

During the reign of Mary I in 1555, St Sepulchre's vicar, John Rogers, was burned as a heretic.

The bell

St Sepulchre is named in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as the "bells of Old Bailey".[7] An account exists which told of a Mr John Dowe, a London merchant, who paid the parish 50 to buy a handbell on the condition that it would be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows at Newgate.[8] This handbell, known as the Execution Bell, now resides in a glass case to the south of the nave. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the clerk of St Sepulchre's was responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned man's cell in Newgate Prison the night before his execution and announcing the news by repeating the following "wholesome advice":[8][1]

"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!"

Given its proximity to both Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey, the bells in its tower, in addition to the usual functions of marking time, were rung to announce executions. On the day of the execution, the bells were tolled as the condemned were led to Tyburn.[1][9]

Musicians' church

The church has been the official musicians' church for many years and is associated with many famous musicians. Its north aisle (formerly a chapel dedicated to Stephen Harding) is dedicated as the Musicians' Chapel, with four windows commemorating John Ireland, the singer Dame Nellie Melba, Walter Carroll and the conductor Sir Henry Wood respectively.[10] Wood, who "at the age of fourteen, learned to play the organ" at this church [11] and later became its organist, also has his ashes buried in this church.

Cap badge of the Royal Fusiliers

The south aisle of the church holds the regimental chapel of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (merged to form the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers), and its gardens are a memorial garden to that regiment.[12] The west end of the north aisle has various memorials connected with the City of London Rifles (the 6th Battalion London Regiment). The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[13]

Notable people associated with the church


The north aisle is dominated by a splendid organ built by Renatus Harris in 1670.[15] The swell was added by John Byfield in c.1730. The organ was enlarged in 1817 by James Hancock and by John Gray in 1828 and 1835, and Gray and Davison in 1849, 1852 and 1855. It was rebuilt in 1932 by Harrison and Harrison. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register. It is not currently playable, and an electric organ is used when required for services.


See also


  1. 1 2 3 Piper, David; Jervis, Fionnuala. The Companion Guide to London. p. 350.
  2. 1 2 "NEWGATE: Conservation Area Character Summary" (PDF). Corporation of London. 1999.
  3. "Newgate Street Conservation Area [No. 6]". City of London Corporation.
  4. Latham, Robert, ed. (1985). Samuel Pepys - The Shorter Pepys. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 484. ISBN 0-14-009418-0.
  5. Cobb, G (1942). The Old Churches of London. London: Batsford.
  6. "London:the City Churches” Pevsner,N/Bradley,S New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0-300-09655-0
  7. "Our Community — Bells".
  8. 1 2 St. Sepulchre's and its neighbourhood. Old and New London, Volume 2. Cassell, Petter & Galpin (courtesy of British History Online). 1878. pp. 447–491.
  9. "London's secret sights: 14 odd attractions you never knew were there". The Daily Telegraph.
  10. "The London Encyclopaedia" Hibbert,C;Weinreb,D;Keay,J: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev 1993,2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
  11. "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
  12. Historic England. "Details from image database (199516)". Images of England. accessed 23 January 2009
  13. "The John Smith Window". St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  14. Pearce,C.W. “Notes on Old City Churches: their organs, organists and musical associations” London, Winthrop Rogers Ltd 1909

Coordinates: 51°31′0.07″N 0°6′8.47″W / 51.5166861°N 0.1023528°W / 51.5166861; -0.1023528

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