In the town of Chertsey stands a statue of a young woman grabbing the clapper of a church bell. The piece, created by Shelia Mitchell, depicts a story that dates back to the 15th century. The woman is the statue is Blanche Heriot, who stopped the curfew bell to save her fiancé from being executed.
Over the latter half of the 15th century, the Wars of the Roses raged across England as the houses of York and Lancaster fought for the throne. Midway through the war, in 1471, Yorkist King Edward IV retook the throne.
It was in this year that the story of Blanche Heriot and her lover, a Lancastrian knight, begins. Having fought against the King, and therefore now a traitor, the knight sought sanctuary at Chertsey Abbey. He was captured regardless and sentenced to death for his treason. The execution was to occur swiftly—the next day in fact—following the first toll of the town’s curfew bell.
With little chance of escape and short on time, the knight recalled a Yorkist noble he had met in battle. Though in a position to kill this enemy, the knight instead spared the Yorkist’s life. Grateful for this mercy, and his life, the noble gave the knight his signet ring. Believing this would demonstrate his moral and honorable character, the knight dispatched a rider to share this story and ring with the king.
Reaching London in good time, the rider met with King Edward IV whose pardon was given. With a ride the knight’s life depended upon ahead, the rider made a swift departure from London, needing to reach Chertsey before sundown. Despite his exhaustive efforts, with only minutes to spare before the curfew bell would signal execution, the rider was still a mile away.
Knowing her lover’s time was short and hope was running out, Blanche scaled the abbey’s bell tower and threw herself around the clapper. Despite being swung against the bell as it attempted to ring, Blanche held fast, her body muting the curfew bell in time for the pardon to finally arrive. The knight was duly released and brave Blanche was reunited with her lover who she had saved.
Know Before You Go
The original bell now hangs in Chertsey’s St Peter's Church.