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St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

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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Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate
Holy Sepulchre, London
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, London
Church of saint Edmund the (King and) Martyr and of the Holy Sepulchre (obsolete)
Church of saint/Saint Sepulchre, Holborn/Middlesex (dated)
tower section of the church
LocationLondon, EC1
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
ChurchmanshipLow Church Evangelical
StatusParish church
Foundedbefore 1066
DedicationEdmund the (King and) Martyr and to the Holy Sepulchre
Consecratedbefore 1066
Functional statusActive
Heritage designationGrade I listed building
Designated4 January 1950
StyleGothic (tower)[1]
Years built15th century (rebuilt)
Completed1670 (reopened)[2]
Other dimensions3-storey porch
Number of towers1
DeaneryCity of London (sole deanery in archdeanery)
ParishSt. Sepulchre with Christchurch, Greyfriars and St. Leonard, Foster Lane (as sole church of)
Priest in chargeRev. Nick Mottershead

Holy Sepulchre London, formerly and in some official uses Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate, is the largest Anglican parish church in the City of London. It stands on the north side of Holborn Viaduct across a crossroads from the Old Bailey, and its parish takes in Smithfield Market. During medieval times, the site lay outside ("without") the city wall, west of the Newgate.

It has London's musicians' chapel in which a book of remembrance sits and an October/November requiem takes place – unusual for a church associated with Low Church Evangelicalism. The church has two local army regiment memorials.

The vicar is appointed by St John's College, Oxford, which has held the church's patronage since 1622.

The church is within the Newgate Street Conservation Area.[3]


The original (probably pre-Norman) church on the site was dedicated to St Edmund the King and Martyr.[2] In 1137 it was given to the Priory of St Bartholomew. During the Crusades of that century the church was re-dedicated to Saint Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre, venerating the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Knights passed by on the way to the Holy Lands.[2] This name became contracted, and in the 21st century reference to the saint-king has been overwhelmingly dropped. The very early lessening of the first dedication helped to reserve that name for the small church to the east of St Paul's Cathedral dedicated to St Edmund, King and Martyr.[4]

The church is today the largest parish church in the city.[5] It was completely rebuilt in the 15th century[5] but was gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666,[6] which left the outer walls,[7] the tower and the porch standing.[8] It was rebuilt 1667–1679 by Joshua Marshall, the King's Master Mason, and appears to be remodelled to Marshall's own design.[9][10] Lightly modified in the 18th century,[11] the interior of the church is a wide, roomy space with a coffered ceiling[12] installed in 1834 with plasterwork of three years later.[11] The church underwent considerable re-facing and alterations in 1878.[11] During the Second World War the 18th-century watch-house, built in the churchyard to deter grave-robbers, was bomb-struck but later rebuilt. The vicarage was fully renovated in the early 2000s.

The interior of St Sepulchre

During Mary I's persecutions, in 1555, the incumbent vicar John Rogers was burned at the stake as a heretic.


The bells are referred to in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as the "bells of Old Bailey".[13]

In 1605, London merchant tailor John Dowe paid the parish £50 (equivalent to £14,000 in 2023) to buy a handbell and to mark the execution of prisoners at the nearby gallows at Newgate.[14] This execution bell is displayed in a glass case in the nave. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the clerk was responsible for ringing it outside the condemned man's cell in Newgate Prison the night before his execution, and announcing the following "wholesome advice":[14][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 proximity to Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey, built on the site of the prison, certain of the bells in its tower, aside from marking time, celebrating weddings and communion, were rung to announce executions. In the first years of the court this was as the condemned felon was led to Tyburn.[1][15]

Musicians' Chapel[edit]

By the north aisle is the Musicians' Chapel. As St Stephen's chapel it hosted votive masses to the 12th-century monastic saint Stephen Harding prior to the English Reformation and during the reign of Mary I of England.[16]

The ashes of conductor Sir Henry Wood, founder of The Proms, who learnt to play the organ at the church as a boy, were interred here in the 1940s.[16]

It was rededicated to musicians by Dr. W.R. Matthews, Dean of St Paul's, on 2 January 1955 in the presence of many distinguished musicians including an orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent and the BBC Singers.[16] Its four windows commemorate Sir Henry Wood, John Ireland, Dame Nellie Melba and Walter Carroll[16]

The chapel's appearance and the Musicians' Book of Remembrance are maintained by the Friends of the Musicians' Chapel. A Service of Thanksgiving for all those in the book is held at the church each year as well as a requiem close to All Souls' Day. Many concerts and memorial events for musicians have been held in the church. In 2017 the vicar ceased parish funds financing the requiem and allowing of most free rehearsing time. A protest was held and many prominent musicians including John Rutter sought continued benevolence from the wider congregation and church patron. Attempts to mediate failed.

Army memorials[edit]

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), to whom its gardens are a memorial.[17] The west end of the north aisle has memorials for the City of London Rifles (the 6th Battalion London Regiment).

Protection and recognition of architecture[edit]

The church has been designated a Grade I listed building (the highest grade) since 1950.[11]

Notable people associated with the church[edit]


The organ

The north aisle is dominated by a splendid organ built by Renatus Harris in 1670;[19] the organ case is its sole mention in the architectural listing, adding a date, 1677.[11]

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.[20] It is not currently playable, though efforts are being made to restore it to a playable condition.[21] A Makin digital organ is used when required for services.

The choir has now composed of eight professional singers.


  • Francis Forcer 1676–1704
  • Thomas Deane 1705–1712
  • Benjamin Short 1712–1760
  • William Selby and Samuel Jarvis 1760–1773
  • Samuel Jarvis 1773–1784
  • George Cooper 1784–1799
  • George Cooper 1799–1843 (son of above)
  • George Cooper 1843–1876 (son of above)
  • James Loaring
  • Edwin Matthew Lott
  • Edgar Pettman
  • Frank B. Fowle c. 1921
  • Peter Asprey (Director of Music; present)
  • Joshua Ryan (Organist elect; from May 2022)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Piper, David; Jervis, Fionnuala. The Companion Guide to London. p. 350.
  2. ^ a b c "Newgate: Conservation Area Character Summary" (PDF). Corporation of London. 1999.
  3. ^ "Newgate Street Conservation Area [No. 6]". City of London Corporation.
  4. ^ "The City of London Churches: monuments of another age" Quantrill, E; Quantrill, M p. 24: London; Quartet; 1975
  5. ^ a b "The City Churches" Tabor, M. p. 127: London; The Swarthmore Press Ltd; 1917
  6. ^ Latham, Robert, ed. (1985). Samuel Pepys – The Shorter Pepys. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 484. ISBN 0140094180.
  7. ^ "The Survey of Building Sites in London after the Great Fire of 1666" Mills, P/ Oliver, J Vol I p. 124: Guildhall Library MS. 84 reproduced in facsimile, London, London Topographical Society, 1946
  8. ^ Cobb, G (1942). The Old Churches of London. London: Batsford.
  9. ^ Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1851 by Rupert Gunnis
  10. ^ "1628 – Joshua Marshall". Retrieved 10 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1064640)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  12. ^ "London:the City Churches" Pevsner, N / Bradley, S. New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  13. ^ "Our Community — Bells". stsepulchres.org.
  14. ^ a b St. Sepulchre's and its neighbourhood. Old and New London, Volume 2. Cassell, Petter & Galpin (courtesy of British History Online). 1878. pp. 447–491.
  15. ^ "London's secret sights: 14 odd attractions you never knew were there". The Daily Telegraph.
  16. ^ a b c d "The London Encyclopædia" Hibbert, C; Weinreb, D; Keay, J: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (revised 1993, 2008) ISBN 978-1405049245
  17. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503
  18. ^ "The John Smith Window". St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  19. ^ Pearce,C.W. "Notes on Old City Churches: their organs, organists and musical associations" London, Winthrop Rogers Ltd 1909
  20. ^ "The National Pipe Organ Register – NPOR".
  21. ^ "Fundraising for Organ Restoration and Piano Replacement". Holy Sepulchre London. Retrieved 16 April 2022.

External links[edit]

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