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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Beating the Bounds 1893 (1) - Outside The Beaconsfield, Harringay

This group were beating the bounds of Tottenham.

Beating the bounds is an ancient tradition that goes back into the mists of time. It involves residents walking a parish's boundaries to share the knowledge of where they lay and to lay claim to their area.

Knowing the boundaries of the parish was crucial to a community’s identity and the residents’ responsibilities. On the evening of Ascension Day, a group from every parish and various governing bodies in England would walk around the parameters of their land. Each boundary post would be beaten to mark it out in the minds of the younger generations and the clergy would pray for the land along the way.

Here's a snippet of a text I found relating the story of one bounds beating, closer to the City in the year 1857:

My own experience in this way is but small, having officiated but on one occasion. What took place then, I shall relate for the satisfaction of the curious. I have been a shopkeeper in the City for more than twenty years, and am considered to do a good stroke of business. When I was chosen select vestry-man last year, I cannot say I was very much surprised. I was not sorry either perhaps I felt a little flattered.

At any rate, I did not refuse the office, which in our parish is, to say the worst of it, at least as convivial as it is burdensome. We dispense a good deal of charity one way and another ; and if we make merry after it now and then, nobody is the worse for that - not ourselves, I'm sure, whatever cross-grained folks may think about it.

A few weeks ago. I received an intimation that my attendance at the parish church, where I was to join the procession to traverse the bounds, would be expected on a certain day, at an hour specified.... I met my colleagues at the vestry at the hour appointed.....and when all were prepared to set forth, I found myself at the head of the column, armed with a bunch of flowers as big almost as the head of an ox, and with a companion furnished in a similar manner on each side of me. It wanted an hour of noon when we sallied forth down the street.

Our way lay through various streets, lanes, courts, and alleys, and along the bank of the river. I cannot say that I traversed the whole limits of the parish myself, but I can certify the boys did. At all the recognised boundaries, they set up a jovial shout, and battered away at the iron landmarks with their willow-wands. In some places, they had to climb ladders; in others, to dive into cellars now their yellow breeches and blue stockings were seen cascading through an open window now the whole school marched bodily into a tailor's shop, and began jumping and poking with their sticks at the ceiling then they would knock at the door of a private dwelling, and the moment it was opened, rush down to the cellar in search of the rusty plate, emerging again with three cheers, in token that all was as it should be.

In this way, we spent, I should say, something like four hours, without exciting much attention from the public, who, in London city, have a rather characteristic habit of attending to their own business, and leaving other people to follow theirs. Here and there we attracted some observation, anti our yellow-legged regiment picked up a few recruits of their own age and standing, who seemed to desire nothing better than to share in the frolic of the procession. When we had completed the survey of the boundaries, and ascertained that the parish stood in the same place it did on that day twelve-[-114-]month - none of the cast-iron tablets having disappeared from their positions - our business was concluded. What followed, I do not consider myself bound to state categorically.

(The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith, 1857)

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Albums: Historical Images of Harringay from 1885 - 1918 | 2 of 2

Comment by Maddy on January 2, 2019 at 18:32

It's for Ascension Day in May - let's restart the custom in 2019!

Comment by Hugh on January 3, 2019 at 12:39

You can see two ladders in the picture. The same appear in other pictures on this set, sometimes more centrally within the group. So I assume they were being used by them. The text except I added above explains why.

As to reviving the tradition, hmm why not. Sounds very convivial. But given where we are on the borders of two parishes, which bounds would we beat? Or would we adapt and set new bounds for our community?

Here's another snippet from a blog about the ceremony in Walthamstow:

The boundaries of where Walthamstow met a neighbouring parish such as Tottenham or Leyton were often highlighted by crosses painted on stonewalls and trees, or were marked by a brook or hedgerow. In some places, wooden stakes were hammered into the ground. Often the perambulation took place during Rogation Week and there was a procession of locals who beat drums as they stopped at each marker. The walkers were often fuelled by bread and cheese, and beer. Another tradition was to carry willow wands and to use them to ‘beat’ the bounds. The ceremony was carried out every few years or so.

Walthamstow always had the historical boundary of the River Lea to mark it off from Tottenham except that his borderland area was mainly meadowland even into the nineteenth century, and Walthamstow even had small patches of ground on either side of the river. So, there could be confusion between the two communities about exactly where their respective parish boundaries lay.

These borders mattered in the days when each parish and its vestry was more or less a self-governing unit responsible for everything from maintaining the roads to caring for the poor. It’s thought that the Walthamstow’s vestry last organized a complete beating of the bounds in the 1860s.

Comment by Hugh on January 3, 2019 at 18:55

And here is the same group of bounds beaters up at Ally Pally (ladders still in tow).

Comment by EMC2 on January 3, 2019 at 19:08

Thanks for that informative post Hugh. One of our neighbours up here in Hornsey Park has just reinstated the Wood Green & Hornsey Parish (also N22/N8) markers in her renovated front drive

Comment by Hugh on January 3, 2019 at 19:19

Good for them! A few years back, Reuben from Paul Simon contacted me about an object he'd found in a skip. Not knowing what to do with it, but realising it shouldn't be lost to the area, he offered it to me. So I'm now holding on to a homeless old parish marker, original location unknown. It looks about a half century younger than your neighbour's marker, and it's certainly bigger, but I'd love to find it a proper home. 

Comment by Michele on January 20, 2019 at 18:58

Have never heard of Rogation week???

Comment by Michele on January 20, 2019 at 19:01

Is there no map showing where the markers are/were?

Comment by Hugh on January 21, 2019 at 0:16

You'd think there would be, Michele. I asked when I was up at Bruce Castle the other week, but they don't know of one. I've offered them the marker. Hopefully they'll give it a loving home. 

Comment by John D on January 21, 2019 at 4:20

Michele - Rogation Week is a quasi-Christian festival  whose date is tied to that of Easter. Many parishes used to beat the bounds in Rogation week but it seems that the ceremony degenerated into a boozy and riotous party from which the Church dissociated itself. 

More information at http://www.lintonpc.kentparishes.gov.uk/rogation-sunday-boundary-walk/.

The town ( Borough ? ) of Hawick keep up the tradition of riding the boundaries to make sure that the Scots have not invaded and taken over the disputed land.

Comment by John D on January 21, 2019 at 4:28

add - it seems that most, if not all, of the Scottish / English Border towns have some form of Common Riding. Fascinating detail at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Riding#Hawick

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