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Dewsbury Minster
Wikimedia Commons

Ringing the Devil’s Knell is a custom associated with Dewsbury MinsterParish church in Dewsbury and Mother Church of West Yorkshire. in West Yorkshire, England. The church’s tenor bell, Black Tom, is rung once for each year since Christ’s birth every Christmas Eve and is timed to finish on the stroke of midnight. Local legend explains that the tradition was established there as a penance by Thomas de Soothill, who had murdered his servant in 1492.[1]


In 1492 Sir Thomas de Soothill, in a rage, grabbed a servant boy who had not attended church and threw him into a mill pond. The boy drowned, and as an act of penance de Soothill paid for a bell, which was named Black Tom after its benefactor, for the ancient parishAncient or ancient ecclesiastical parishes encompassed groups of villages and hamlets and their adjacent lands, over which a clergyman had jurisdiction. church (Dewsbury Minster). He started the custom of ringing the bell on Christmas Eve, one toll for each year since Christ’s birth, to proclaim the defeat of evil and the forgiveness of sins, not just his own.[2] It is called the Devil’s Knell because it was believed that the Devil died when Christ was born.[1]

The Devil’s Knell was once tolled at Horbury parish churchActive Anglican church in the diocese of Wakefield, usually known as St Peter's., but the tradition was discontinued.[3] The custom of the Devil’s Knell featured on a 31p stamp in the 1980s in a Royal Mail set, Traditions of England.[2]



Staff writer. “Ringing the Devil’s Knell.” A Dictionary of English Folklore, edited by Jacquelie Simpson and Steve Roud, Online, Oxford University Press, 2003,
The Minster Bells. “Dewsbury Minster.” Dewsbury Minster,
Walker, J. W. Wakefield Its History and People Vol.1&2 3rd Edn. S.R.  Publishers, 1966.