Beating the Bounds is an ancient custom still observed in many English parishes. The community would walk the boundaries of the parish, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands.
In former times when maps were rare it was usual to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation week. The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them.
Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys is supposed to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. Priests would pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.
The ceremony had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbours; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of the borders.
Beating the Bounds in Hungerford:
The tradition of walking around the limits of the Town & Manor property, ensuring that the boundary is secure and undisputed, has continued more or less regularly.
You can read a detailed and interesting account of "Perambulating the Borough Boundaries" published in the Marlborough Times and Wilts and Berks County Paper, 31 Jul 1886.
Beating the Bound also took place on 12 Aug 1892.
In the present day, it takes place over a Saturday (Town & Manor boundary) and Sunday (Liberty of Sanden Fee boundary), usually every five years, recently on 28-29 Jun 2014. The event is open to everyone - and you do not need to enter any water!
The entire circuit is about nine miles - but time is taken to ensure that boundaries are correct, and from time to time marker posts have to be renewed.
Beating the Bounds in Hungerford, 8 July 1913: In 1913 the local photographer, Albert Parsons, followed the Beating of the Bounds, and his very complete photographic record, of which a small selection is included here, provides us with a wonderful insight into a particular day in the life of Hungerford.
There are a few additional photographs of Beating the Bounds in later years.
Beating the Bounds 1939:
An interesting insight into the problems of maintaining the boundaries and fishing rights is revealed in the newspaper account of Beating the Bounds in 1939. Beating had previously taken place in 26 Jul 1934, and before that on 20 Sep 1923.
On this occasion, Mr Munford was Constable, along with Mr Angus Marshall, Mr H D'O Astley, Mr Neate and Mr Sandell, Mr Bushnell (Town Crier), Mr Culley, Water-keeper, and Mr Hunter, water bailiff to Mr Harrison.
There were several areas of dispute!
Beating the Bounds in modern times:
Beating the Bounds takes place regularly. HLP has photos from 1974, 1978, 1994, 2000, 2014.
A gallery of many photographs of beating the bounds, including:
- Beating the Bounds, 1.7.2000
- Beating the Bounds, Jul 1913. Outside the Corn Exchange
- Beating the Bounds, Jul 1913. "A Look at the Map"
- Beating the Bounds, Jul 1913. "Bumping"
- Beating the Bounds, Jul 1913, In the River Dun below Bridge Street
- Beating the Bounds, Jul 1913. "A Snack by the Way" - on bridge over Kennet near Denford Mill
- Beating the Bounds, 31 Jul 1939. "The Break" at Mill House, Eddington
- Beating the Bounds, 19-20 Jul 1948. Dr Starkey-Smith (with Fred New on his left, wearing hat)
- Beating the Bounds, 19-20 Jul 1948. L-R Bushnell, Bob Newhook, ???, Horning (in front of gate post), ???, Fred New. Dr Starkey-Smith 2nd from right.
- Beating the Bounds, 19-20 Jul 1948.(HH)
- Beating the Bounds, 1978
- Beating the Bounds, 1982
- Parish Magazine Sep 1892