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)