John Speller's Web Pages Toll! Toll! Because there Ends Tonight
John Speller's Web Pages - English Christmas CarolsToll! Toll! Because there Ends Tonight
A curious carol found in Carols for Christmas-tide; set to Ancient Melodies by the Rev. T. Helmore, M.A.; the Words, principally in imitation of the original, by the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A. London: J. Alfred Novello, 1854.
This collection is memorable for including the first publication of the carol, "Good King Wenceslas looked out."
John Mason Neale comments on the carol "Toll! Toll! Because there Ends Tonight" as follows:
"It is a custom at Dewsbury in Yorkshire to toll the passing bell on Christmas Eve at three o'clock in the afternoon. This is called The Devil's Knell; and is intended to signify that "when Christ was born, the Devil died:" a striking though exaggerated way of representing the truth that the birth of our Lord gave the death-blow to the empire of Satan."
According to Dr. Neale the words were original and from the late fifteenth century. The original tune has been lost. The tune given by Helmore is "Psallat scholarum concio" from Piae Cantiones (1582).
The 13 cwt tenor bell at the Minster Church of All Saints, Dewsbury, was given by Sir Thomas de Soothill in 1434, and it was Sir Thomas who instituted the custom of ringing the bell, nicknamed "Black Tom" after its donor, once for every year of the Christian Era on Christmas Eve, to proclaim the defeat of evil and the forgiveness of all sins. A video of this may be seen here. There seems to be some difference of opinion as to the time on Christmas Eve the bell is tolled. Dr. Neale gave the time as 3 o'clock. When the practice was revived after some centuries in 1828, the time was midnight, and this held through the nineteenth century. At the present the bell is tolled at 10.30 in the evening.