You Just Can’t Beat a Good Ceremony
Jill Finch Reports from this years Beating the Bounds ceremony
It’s been a miserable week, weather wise. Bank Holiday Monday was awful and Tuesday was actually COLD, on Wednesday no one turned up for my Wren Churches walk so what is a City Guide to do on Thursday when the sun actually seemed to be peeping out. Beat the Bounds of course.
Beating the Bounds is an ancient custom going back to mediaeval times when parishes confirmed their boundaries by walking around them once a year, stopping to beat each boundary mark with wands (sticks) and to pray for protection and blessings.
I joined the ceremony At All Hallows by the Tower on Ascension Day (Thursday 29th May) and we set off at 3.30 to witness the ceremony for the parish. Guess what, it started to rain at around 3.35pm.
Undeterred, our happy band, with umbrellas aloft marched after the Sherriff, the Beadle of the Tower Ward, some Watermen & Lightermen and a representative of the Worshipful Company of Bakers (among others) in true British spirit.
The south boundary of the parish is actually in the River Thames so we followed the ‘in crowd’ to Tower Pier where they set off in a boat to beat the first boundary. The beating is done with stout sticks in the hands of male and female students from St Dunstan’s College (one way for parents to tick off a day of half term) and I was told that the one who beats in the river is then allowed to steer the boat under Tower Bridge and back to the pier.
On their return we put our umbrellas back up and marched in the wake of the beaters and dignitaries to Custom House, St Dunstan’s in the East (where my fellow guide and I sought out Paul Taylor’s bench) Plantation House and Knollys House. At each stop we took over the pavement, stopped traffic, said a prayer, sang a verse of a hymn and continued to hold our umbrellas aloft.
At Knollys House we heard the story of the Knollys Rose ceremony (23rd June) and the adolescent beaters struck terror into the heart of the staff in the local Pret a Manger as they beat nearer and nearer the plate glass window. Luckily they were well trained and well behaved and the glass remained intact.
The group then went back to the church of All Hallowes by the Tower for Evensong and I took my wet self home. Later in the evening they were to stage the tri-annual ‘battle’ between the parish and the Governor and Yeomen Warders of the Tower. It takes place at the boundary mark shared by the Tower and the church which was always in dispute. In 1698 there was a riot though things are a bit more civilised these days.
Seriously though, it was great to be part of a ceremony which is so much part of the history of the City and I can’t wait for the next one.
I think it stopped raining as we reached the church – c’est la vie …
Look out for more of Jill’s walks “The Market and the Monastery” and “Print and the Press” soon