Online Encyclopedia

BEATING THE BOUNDS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V04, Page 324 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BEATING THE BOUNDS, an ancient custom still observed in many English parishes. 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 latter is in the north of England still called " Gang Week "or " Ganging Days " from this " ganging " or procession. The priest. of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, beat with them the parish border-stones. Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys was obviously to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. In England the custom is as old as Anglo-Saxon days, as it is mentioned in laws of Alfred and EEthelstan. It is thought that it may have been derived from the Roman Terminalia, a festival celebrated on the 22nd of February in honour of Terminus, the god of landmarks, to whom cakes and wine were offered, sports and dancing taking place at the boundaries. In England a parish-ale or feast was always held of ter the perambulation, which assured its popularity, and in Henry VIII.'s reign the occasion had become an excuse for so much revelry that it attracted the condemnation of a preacher who declared " these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications be nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse." Beating the bounds had a religious side in the practice which originated the term Rogation, the accompanying clergy being supposed to beseech (rogare) the divine blessing upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest. This feature originated in the 5th century, when Mamercus, bishop of Vienne, instituted special prayers and fasting and processions on these days. This clerical side of the parish bounds-beating was one of the religious functions prohibited by the Injunctions of Queen Elizabeth; but it was then ordered that the perambulation should continue to be performed as a quasi-secular function, so that evidence of the boundaries of parishes, &c. might be preserved (Gibson, Codex juris Ecclesiastici Anglicani (1761) pp. 213-214). Bequests were sometimes made in connexion with bounds-beating. Thus at Leighton Buzzard on Rogation Monday, in accordance with the will of one Edward Wilkes, a London merchant who died in 1646, the trustees of his almshouses accompanied the boys. The will was read and beer and plum rolls distributed. A remarkable feature of the bequest was that while the will is read one of the boys has to stand on his head.
End of Article: BEATING THE BOUNDS
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