Dewsbury Minster
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ringing the Devil’s Knell is a custom associated with Dewsbury Minster in West Yorkshire, England. The 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 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 parish 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 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. (2003). Ringing the Devil’s Knell. In J. Simpson & S. Roud (Eds.), A Dictionary of English Folklore (online). Oxford University Press.
The Minster Bells. (n.d.). Dewsbury Minster. Dewsbury Minster.