Before detailed maps were available, parish boundaries were described by reference to natural features. To ensure these were not forgotten young people were walked around the parish by their elders and were often bumped against the boundary mark to imprint it in memory. The practice continued even when maps and plans were more easily available. The picture shows a central figure being bumped on some unseen landmark, possibly a tree stump or post. The canes the men are holding were for beating the boundary, not the people!The Parochial Notes set out a comprehensive list of the features marked during a “perambulation” of 21st May 1788, which included:•An ash pollard between Woodmeriden and the Bells 4 acres;•an oak pollard the corner of Doctors Field by Oven [Owen]; and•Mark on the Mantle piece of Widow Johnson’s.There is no record of what Widow Johnson thought of this! The men were each paid 2 shillings for “going the bounds”, and were well refreshed during the day. The expenses recorded include 9 shillings and sixpence at Bo-Peep and Richmore Hill, with a further 15 shillings one penny and 11 shillings and fivepence for eating and drinking at Baruch Wood. For the full account see AT Waring’s Chelsfield Parochial Notes in our Archive section. Another account of bounds beating is given in the St. Mary Cray and Swanley Express of 31 May 1895. The article sets out the exploits of a boundary-beating party, plus bugle player, on one particular day. Thanks to Geoffrey Copus, for the source material reproduced here.
Chelsfield A Community Archive
Beating the bounds
Extract from AT Waring’s Chelsfield Parochial Notes collected 1904-1914Before the advent of tithe maps, and the Ordnance Survey, the boundaries of a parish were put into writing detailing the trees and other marks which denoted the boundaries. The better to remember these, the elder and better instructed inhabitants walked the bounds taking with them the younger members of the community. Upon arriving at a well marked point the latter were bumped against the boundary mark so that they might not forget it. In olden times it was ordered that a Perambulation of a parish was to made by the minister, churchwardens and parishioners, by going round the same once a year in or about Ascension week (Jacobs Law Dict). Business was combined with pleasure and the day was considered a holiday.
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