London – St. Sepulchre’s

A little further along Holborn, in Giltspur Street, you come to the old Church of St. Sepulchre, where we meet again the Tyburn prisoners. Everybody who has heard the Beggar’s Opera (and who has not?) will remember the picture Polly Peachum draws of Macheath on the road to Tyburn : “Methinks I see him already in the cart, sweeter and more lovely than the nosegay in his hand.”It was at St. Sepulchre’s that the amorous highwayman would have got his nosegay, on the steps of the church, for an old benefactor had left money to provide flowers for every criminal going to be hanged. It was St. Sepulchre’s bell that tolled the hour of their hanging, and another legacy provided for an admonition and prayers for the condemned.

There are more cheerful memories connected with the old church. There is a mention of it in the twelfth century records. It was rebuilt in the middle of the fifteenth century-the south-west porch still remains a thing of beauty -and after it was nearly destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, Wren practically rebuilt the church with its four weathercocks, whose differences of opinion about the wind gave rise to the saying of Howell: “Unreasonable people are as hard to reconcile as the vanes of St. Sepulchre’s tower.”

Two very noteworthy Elizabethans lie buried in St. Sepulchre’s, one a scholar, the other a brilliant adventurer. The former was Roger Ascham, the queen’s tutor, and the latter, Captain John Smith, “sometime Governor of Virginia and Admiral of New England,”of Pocahontas fame. Captain Smith’s adventures in America have rather overshadowed his earlier exploits. Mr. Walter Thornbury, in his wonderful Old and New London, tells that he fought in Hungary in 1602, and in three single combats overcame three Turks and cut off their heads, for which and other equally brave deeds Sigismund, Duke of Transylvania, gave him his picture set in gold with a pension of three hundred ducats, and allowed him to bear three Turks’ heads proper as his shield of arms. Pocahontas, who you remember found the English climate too much for her, lies buried in the parish church of St. George, Gravesend. In 1914 the Society of Virginian Dames placed two stained glass windows to honour her memory.