The clock of St Sepulchre’s was horribly familiar to Newgate prisoners. In one of Dickens’ most famous novels, a condemned man named Fagin heard it strike the hours in his cell as he sat waiting to hang:
‘Then came night – dark, dismal night. Other watchers are glad to hear this church-clock strike, for they tell of life and coming day. To Fagin they brought despair. The boom of every iron bell came laden with the one, deep, hollow sound – Death…
‘Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which have hidden so much misery and such unspeakable anguish… From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups of two and three presented themselves at the lodge-gate, and inquired, with anxious faces, whether any reprieve had been received.
‘These being answered in the negative, communicated the welcome intelligence to clusters in the street, who pointed out to one another the door from which he must come out, and showed where the scaffold would be built, and, walking with unwilling steps away, turned back to conjure up the scene.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 17. Which novel?
‘As sharp as Evelyn Waugh and sometimes better’ – Times Literary Supplement
‘Good, clean fun’ – Daily Telegraph
‘Pure comic pleasure’ – Spectator