St Sepulchre without Newgate

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• St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Holborn), 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.

• The original Saxon church on the site was dedicated to St Edmund King and Martyr. 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. 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 in 1666, which left only the outer walls, the tower and the porch standing. Modified in the 18th century, the church underwent extensive restoration in 1878. It narrowly avoided destruction in World War II, although the 18th-century watch-house in its churchyard (erected to deter grave-robbers) was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

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

• St Sepulchre is one of the "Cockney bells" of London, named in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as the ‘bells of Old Bailey’. Traditionally, St Sepulchre’s great bell tolled as condemned men passed from Newgate prison towards the gallows. On midnight of an execution day, St Sepulchre’s Clerk would pass by an underground passage to Newgate Prison and ring twelve double tolls to the prisoner on the Execution Bell, whilst reciting a rhymed reminder that the day of execution had come. The hand bell is now displayed under glass in the church, alongside the rhyme that was read to prisoners.

• Captain John Smith, first governor of the State of Virginia, USA, is buried in the South aisle of the church. Smith sailed to America in “the little ships” in 1607 where he was captured by Indians and freed by Princess Pocahontas. He is commemorated in a beautiful stained-glass window on the South wall.

• The south aisle of the church holds the regimental chapel of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), and its gardens are a memorial garden to that regiment.

• St Sepulchre’s has been dedicated as the National Musicians’ Church. Since that time the church has become associated with many famous musicians and continues to cultivate links to musicians and musical institutions today through The Friends of the Musicians’ Chapel, Concerts and Recital series, and its own thriving musical tradition.

• The young Henry Wood learnt to play the organ in The St Stephen Harding Chapel. He was appointed Assistant Organist at the church, aged 14. Sir Henry Wood became famous for instituting the Promenade Concerts; the longest running continuous series of orchestral concerts in the world. When Sir Henry Wood died in 1944, his ashes were laid to rest in the chapel which was subsequently renamed The Musicians’ Chapel.

• Also remembered here are John Ireland, the singer Dame Nellie Melba and Walter Carrol.

• The north aisle is dominated by a splendid organ built by Renatus Harrison in 1670. It was rebuilt in 1932 by Harrison and Harrison.

• The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.


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