Listen for the toll of the Devil’s Knell this Christmas

The tenor bell chimes once for each year since Christ's birth.
The tenor bell chimes once for each year since Christ's birth.

A long-standing tradition with a dark history is due to take place tonight.

The tenor bell in Dewsbury Minster will ring 2014 times as part of a tradition to ward off evil spirits from the town, starting at 10.30pm.

The tradition of the Devil’s Knell dates back to 1434 when a nobleman called Sir Thomas de Soothill murdered a young servant in a fit of rage.

He grabbed the boy and threw him into a mill pond, where the boy drowned. Overwhelmed by remorse at the murder, and as an act of penance, de Soothill paid for a new 1300-weight tenor bell for the parish church, now Dewsbury Minster.

And so Sir Thomas started the tradition that the bell (named Black Tom after its benefactor) should be rung on Christmas Eve, with one toll for each year of the Christian era, to proclaim the defeat of evil and the forgiveness of all sins, not just his own.

Since then the bell has sounded every year, except during the war. The tolling of Black Tom is supposed to keep the parish safe from the Devil for another 12 months.

The current inscription on the bell is: “I shall be here if treated just / When they are mouldering in the dust.”