[Newspaper cutting , source unknown, 1869]
Sir,—The custom of ringing the eight o'clock, or Curfew Bell in this parish, which, although generally abolished by Henry I., continued here until two years ago, when the old bellman, John George Lake, who was among our many visitors on Boxing Day, breathed his last; and the custom may be said to have died out with him, for no one was appointed to take his office. Where the money paid him by the parish went to, remains for some Bermondsey vestryman to inquire into. No doubt this practice dated here from the earliest times, as the Red King, being one of the principal benefactors to the Abbey founded here (the buildings of which consisted principally of timber), the Curfew Bell was quite an object of necessity as a means of preventing fire.
Timbs, in his "Curiosities of London," omits this church as being one at which the Curfew was still rung. Gray alludes to this practice in his beautiful poem, commencing with The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day. Perhaps the ringing of the 5-o'clock-in-the morning bell may throw some light on the following passage from Shakespeare: The second cock hath crowed, The Curfew bell has rung, 'tis three o'clock.
Romeo and Juliet
The following item is taken from the vestry minutes, October 24,1683: "Ordered, that William Rawstone, the sexton, should duly ring the bell at 5 o'clock in the morning and 8 in the evening, from All Hallowtide until Candlemas. The churchwardens shall pay him 20s. per annum." With the old bellman has passed away the ancient custom of announcing the Christmas season. I have often been amused at hearing him, after giving a preliminary flourish of his bell, commence with the following strain on a Christmas morning:#
Good morning my pretty mistresses, arise And make your puddings and your pies, And let your maids lie still; For they get up all the year round Very, very, much against their will.
concluding with such lines as: Good morning, my kind friends and patrons all And don't forget your bellman when he calls.
The following items are extracted from the vestry book: "1676.—Samuel Bennett be elected beadle and bellman, in the place of Thos. Barnet, deceased."
This man was 32 years beadle and bellman. "1683.—Item, paid Samuel Bennett £1 l9s. 6d., expences for getting Thos. Sprat from on board a ship that he was priest in, he having a wife and four children, as per bill.
"1679.—Ordered that Thos. Jewing, a poor man of the parish whose petition was thus read in the vestry, wherein he set forth his great povertie and want of employment, and therefore prayed the parish that be might be bellman for this side of the parish, commonly called the land-side; they, taking his petition into their consideration, and for reasons therein set forth, did from this day, and henceforth, during his good behaviour, enable him to act as bellman for this side, and no other, and to enjoy all the profits thereof to himself —viz., the good will of the people at Christmas, according to custom."
At this season of the year too, the parish seemed to have been specially liberal, for we find the following:
"l609. —Item, paid for charrolls and vasols at Christmas for the poor, the some of £3.
"l620.—Item, given to Sir Edmond Bowyer, according to the custom, for his new year's gift, a lamb which cost 7s. 6d., and a roundlet of canary sack, containing 5: gallons, at 3s. 4d. per gallon, is l9s. 2d."
The bells at this church consist now of only three, with the following inscription on each:
1st.— "T. Mears of London, fecit 1830, 2 3 feet, di 1 ft. 11."
2nd.— "T. Mears of London, fecit 2 ft. 9, : 2 ft."
3rd.— "R. Phelps, fecit 1721, 3 ft. 13, 2 ft. 2."
Those extracts have never been in print before.—Yours, &c.,
H. L. P.
Bermondsey-street, Dec. 27, 1869.