Beating the Bounds
This page last updated: 03 May, 2012 09:00:19
"What is 'Beating the Bounds'?"
The word 'Bounds' in this context means Parish Boundaries and Beating the Bounds refers to an ancient custom, still observed in a few parishes in England and Wales, where the young and old of the Parish walk the boundaries. Historically led by the parish priest and church officials, the purpose was so that the older parishioners can show the younger parishioners the knowledge of the extent of the Parish and where the boundaries lay. It also served as a vehicle for parishioners to pray for the protection of the fields and land and to bless the land to ensure fertility.
"When does 'Beating the Bounds' take place?"
The perambulation of the parish boundaries usually takes place on Ascension Day or during Rogation week.
In Eastry, 2010, it takes place on 10th October.
The practice is very old indeed and is certainly mentioned in the ancient laws of king Alfred the Great and Athelstan. It has been suggested that the practice comes from the Roman festival in honour of the god of landmarks; Terminus; whose festival on 22nd February was celebrated with wine and cake and dancing at the boundaries.
In Henry VIII's reign the occasions became almost out of hand in the extent of their revelry to the point where one preacher declared "...these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications have nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse..."
Knowledge of the limits of the parish were handed down to the young parishioners so that matters of parishioners to contribute to the repair of the church and burial rights were not disputed in the ecclesiastical courts.
The Parish Priest, Churchwardens and other church officials headed a crowd of young boys who carried green boughs of Birch or Willow and then beat the parish boundary stones or markers with them. The other, somewhat more violent practice, was to beat the boys themselves at the site of each marker or even bumped on the marker stones. The aim of this was to apparently ensure the boys remembered where the stones were!
The reason for taking boys (often choir-boys) was to ensure longevity of the knowledge. Often en-route Psalms were recited; usually Psalms 103 and 104 and to add a little more 'fire and brimstone' into the mix the Priest would proclaim "...cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour..."
Copies of the Beating of the Bounds, Eastry; kindly supplied by Michael Kinns and Jack Bones:
The Beating of the Bounds Today
Although it is true that satellite imagery and modern surveying techniques for map-making make the practice of the past somewhat obsolete; at least for its non-religious aspects; it still has a place in strengthening the bonds within the community and give members of the Parish a sense of place.
In Bodmin a Cornish hurling match is held immediately after the event; albeit that this only occurs every 5 years; at which the mayor throws a silver ball into a body of water known as the Salting Pool.
We have also "exported" the ceremony to New Hampshire in the USA.
We hope you too will join us when we "Beat the Bounds"!
© 2010 Eastry Parish Council. Reproduction of any narrative or illustrations either in part or as a whole is strictly forbidden without permission.