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Eric Shackle Writes: Thieves Won't Stop The Devil's Knell

Eric Shackle reports that a 600-year-old Christmas Eve bell ringing tradition in the Yorkshire town of Dewsbury will go ahead this week, despite damage done by thieves to the church where the ceremony takes place.

Although thieves stripped lead from the roof of an ancient church in Dewsbury,Yorkshire, a week or two ago, the bellringers will still manage to toll their traditional Devil's Knell shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve.

Observing a 600-year-old custom, teams of sturdy bellringers sound the bell once for every year since Christ's birth, supposedly to mark the Devil's departure from Earth. That means that this year, the bell will chime exactly 2006 times.

When we first heard of the Devil's Knell four years ago, we asked the then Team Rector of Dewsbury, Canon John Hawley, about the custom. "The Devil`s Knell will be tolled from approximately 9.45pm on Christmas Eve, to finish on the stroke of midnight," he said.

"In the 15th century a local knight, Sir Thomas de Soothill, in a fit of rage murdered a servant boy by throwing him into a mill pond. To expiate his crime he gave the tenor bell, Black Tom, requiring it to be tolled at his own funeral. It is now rung on Christmas Eve to signifiy that the First Eucharist of Christmas proclaims the defeat of evil."

The History of Dewsbury Church, just reprinted for 2006, says:

The Rector's view is that the Knell is not rung on Christmas Eve to defeat evil, as this is superstitious, but to proclaim Christ's victory over evil. However, in medieval times, people were very superstitious and hence it was probably originally rung to ward off evil spirits for the coming year.

The alternative name for the Knell is "Old Lad's Passing", which would seem to indicate the defeat of the devil.

Lauren Chadwick, a journalist who lives nearby, reported theft of the lead in Dewsbury Today http://www.dewsburytoday.co.uk, the on-line version of the local weekly newspaper the Dewsbury Reporter.

Lead stripped from the roof of Dewsbury Minster [a church once associated with a monastery] has left the historic building at risk.

Thieves took a large amount of lead from the roof of the minster without consideration for the interior of the centuries-old building.

Without the waterproof lead covering, everything inside the building has been at risk of damage from rainfall.

The Rev Kevin Partington, minster rector, said a number of sections of the church, including the disabled toilets, nappy changing facilities and the popular heritage centre were covered in dust, dirt and rain which fell through the unprotected roof.

The minster is in the midst of a fundraising drive to pay for vital refurbishments to the building and repairs to the organ.

He said: "It has caused complete and utter disruption with the rebuilding work. It has put everything at risk.

"We are determined that the people who did this won't get the last word – we will carry on and continue the work.

"The main area where the water ran in was over the heritage centre. Lots of people visit to come and see the history of Dewsbury, and we are immensely proud of the minster's role in the life of the town."

Mr Partington said the roof needed to be repaired as soon as possible – but he had no idea how much it would cost.

He added: "It feels like a kick in the teeth. It's vandalism on a huge scale."

Dewsbury police said investigations into the incident were on-going, and urged anyone with information to contact them on 01924 431072.

Thieves seem to be very versatile in Dewsbury. The day after the theft of lead from the church was reported, police warned local motorists to be on their guard after a number of thefts of satellite navigation systems in Dewsbury.

"The devices have become the latest target for thieves as drivers often leave them on display when cars are not in use," said the Dewsbury News.

In one incident thieves had smashed a window of a van in a car park and stolen a power lead connected to the satellite navigation system, and a complete device was stolen from a car parked in a street.

Detective Constable Russ Conlon said drivers who left sat-nav cradles on display risked a break-in.

He added: “If you do have sat-nav, remove it from the vehicle and take the cradle off the dash, he advised "Also, the cradle sucker will leave a mark on the windscreen. Thieves have been known to

target vehicles when seeing these marks. Think about it – wipe it off. Two or three minutes work will save £400-£500.”

Another story headlined Move Minster and Knock Down the Mills! said that European regeneration experts had suggested putting the minster in the town centre as one of several radical ideas to transform Dewsbury.

Delegates from cities in Belgium, Hungary, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria had met to share ideas that could shape the town's future.

They suggested making use of the riverbanks, knocking down dilapidated mills, fencing and walls and building new housing to encourage people to live in the town centre.

Ah, those town planners! It's a wonder they didn't suggested letting Black Tom ring out 2007 times every day next year as a Devil's Knell tourist attraction.


On December 21, the Chicago Sun-Times reported: "The Town Hall in Dewsbury, England, having limited its signs to 'Season's Greetings' for years out of fear of offending non-Christians, restores the word 'Christmas' this year."


Two weeks ago, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner invited people from three different backgrounds to tell its readers what Christmas meant to them.

Shahid Malik, MP [Member of Parliament] for Dewsbury, and a Muslim, said:

This year I have hosted a number of community "mince pie and mulled wine" events at the Dewsbury Minster and at St Paulinus Hall. And I take great pleasure in helping switch on Dewsbury's Christmas lights each year.There are few better feelings than watching the faces of children light up with the Christmas lights.

Life can be mundane at times, and perhaps even slightly depressing as the winter nights draw in, and there is no better pick you up than the festive season.Worries and stresses are put to one side to join in the holiday spirit and be merry.

To the PC brigade I would suggest that they get down off their high horses and join in with the Christmas spirit. They might even enjoy themselves!


Thieves steal lead from church roof

The Devil's Knell

Christmas for everybody Shahid Malik, MP http://ichuddersfield.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100localnews/tm_headline=christmas-for-everybody&method=full&objectid=18292149&siteid=50060-name_page.html


A personal note from Peter Hinchliffe, the editor of Open Writing:

It's most embarrassing for a journalist to be scooped on a story on his own doorstep by a journalist who lives on the other side of the world.

Eric Shackle, that indefatigable investigator of odd and unusual events reported on the world-wide Web has gone and done it to me.

I was raised and educated in Dewsbury. I took my first journalistic steps in that part of the world, once known as the Heavy Woollen District because of the numerous textile mills in the area.

These days I live in a neighbouring town, yet I am only a 20-minute drive from Dewsbury Minster. Eric lives in New South Wales, Australia.

Nice one Eric!

By the way the Minister was founded just over 1,000 years ago after a missionary visit to the area by St Paulinus.

A sister church was later founded in the village of Kirkburton, more than 10 miles away. Priests regularly walked between the two churches - and the Priest's Way allegedly passed through the yard where my house is located.

For lots more fascinating stories may I recommend you to vist Eric's world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/


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