Thursday is Ascension Day and, at All Hallows by the Tower in the City, that means conducting the ancient ceremony of Beating the Bounds.
The origins of the custom go back to medieval times when parishes annually reaffirmed their boundaries by undertaking a procession during which each parish boundary marker was beaten with wands while praying for protection and blessings.
At All Hallows, the beating party consists of students from Dunstan College in Catford (these students have an association with the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East which is now part of the parish of All Hallows) along with parish clergy and the masters of livery companies associated with the parish and Thames waterboatmen. (Pictured right is last year’s procession).
Highlights of the procession at All Hallows include the beating of the parish’s southern marker – this is located in the middle of the Thames and must be reached by boat – and the mock ‘confrontation’ which occurs between the beating party and the Governor and Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.
The ‘confrontation’ relates to the fact that the parish and the tower share a boundary – this was apparently a common cause of dispute in the Middle Ages and led, in 1698, to a ‘battle’ between the people of the parish and those of the tower. The ceremony is followed by attendance at a festal evensong at the church.
For more, see www.ahbtt.org.uk/history/beating-the-bounds/
PICTURE: Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.