Beating the Bounds

Where: All around the country
When: Ascension Day or near date
Time: Varies according to location


Mark! Mark!

Beating the Bounds or Boundary Marking is a perambulation or ride around the perimeter of a parcel of land and is usually connected with the demarcation of a parish boundary. A number of these customs survive around the country and are commonly associated with Rogationtide and Ascension Day, though not invariably so. In some cases they take place every year without fail, at others they are less regular; in a few instances they take place at less frequent though still regular set intervals such as every seven years (like Richmond and Portland – see separate articles) or every five years (like Bodmin – see separate article) or every three (like the Tower of London). The less frequent regular customs tend to be in areas where the boundary walk covers a great distance, or they can take place on horseback like the Lichfield Sheriff’s Ride (see separate article). Beating the Bounds customs took place in the past to check the parish and property boundaries and to ensure the neighbours didn’t encroach on land that wasn’t rightfully theirs. Presumably the association with Rogationtide and Ascension Day came about because it was a recognisable annual date at a good time of year for a walk, which could coincide with the thanksgiving associated with the ecclesiastical festivities of the season. In some cases there are landscape features that distinguish set points along the boundaries and some events feature the beating of these markers with hazel wands or sticks such as at Oxford or London (see separate articles) – the parish of All Hallows by the Tower has a marker in the middle of the Thames and the Beating Party have to reach it by boat. Many boundary marking customs involve youngsters being bumped, upended or  whipped at set boundary points to help them remember the location of the landmarks, and perhaps the head-stand on Wilkes Walk (see separate article) derives from this and the Dunting of the Freeholders at Newbiggin (Northumberland- see separate article). Because of the parish association, some of the customs begin or end with a church service. Town and city parishes, with higher population density, tend to have shorter boundaries to walk. There are too many extant customs like this to feature them all on this website, but as well as those already mentioned I’m aware of current customs at Southwark, Wirksworth, Truro, Wilmslow, Hanwell, St Albans, Highworth, Llantrisant, Blacko…if you know of others please share!

Helpful Hints

Ascension Day is an important landmark in the Christian calendar, commemorating the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. It takes place on the 40th day after Easter and is always a Thursday, though the date varies as Easter is a moveable feast.

In 2018 Ascension Day falls upon Thursday 10th May.

The photo shows the Bounds of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford being beaten.