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 Barham Village History


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The 1993 "Beating the Bounds"

Reverend Alan Duke passes the footpath sign at Out Elmstead.
Kath Stone and dog lead the way...


En route across lower Barham Downs.


At the Black Robin with Jenny Barling leading
and Ken Frisby carrying the Village Coat of Arms.


Sam McKee, Jenny Barling and Jim Baird - Beating the Bounds


Between May day and the 1st August comes the golden season of high summer which runs through May and June, to the crown of the year at midsummer, then passes onwards through July and into the first beginnings of autumn at Lammas-tide.

A variety of long established festivals, ecclesiastical and secular, are remembered during this time.   Whitsun is one of them; Ascension Day is another and so are the Rogation days which immediately precede it, when in so many parishes still, the bounds are beaten and the fields or harbours blessed.

Rogationtide consists of the fifth Sunday after Easter and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that follow it, leading up Ascension.   The name Rogation derives from rogere - meaning to ask or beseech - and what is asked or besought at this time is God's blessing on the crops (or fisheries of the sea).   From as far back as the fifth century Christian processions have gone about the fields of Western Europe and litanies have been sung as they went for this purpose.   Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne ordered this to be done on Ascension Day - or on the three preceding days - in AD470 during a period of plague and earthquake after which the custom spread slowley to other parts of the Christian world.   It reached England in the eighth century.   In some northern districts, the old name of Gang Week or Ganging Days is occasionally used for Rogation-tide and Ascension, from the Anglo-Saxon gengen - to go - because at this time the people gang, or go about the parish to bless the fields and beat the bounds.

Processioning at Rogation-tide was frowned upon in the early years of the Reformation but in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the clergy were, if not actually instructed, at least permitted to perambulate their parishes as of old.   Perhaps one of the reasons for this restoration of former custom, apart from real religious feeling, was the widely acknowledged usefulness of the bound-beating which usually formed part of the ceremonies.   It was essential that every man who lived in a parish, rural or urban, should know quite clearly the limits of that parish; and when maps were few and most people illiterate, the easiest way to ensure that everyone concerned learned of the limits was for to follow the line and visit each landmark in person at least once a year.

Children and young lads especially had the nature and situation of each mark impressed upon their memories by more than merely visual contact.   They were bumped upon boundary stones, dragged through hedges and ditches, thrown into streams and ponds, forced to climb over the roofs of buildings that straddled the line and sometimes beaten with rods at particular points by their elders.   At the end of it all, they were rewarded with gifts of money, or cakes, or willow wands.   It was then believed by everyone that this rough-and-tumble experience would enable them to speak with authority in the case of dispute about the boundary line along which they had once endured so much discomfort and pain.   Probably, in every parish, there were always a number of old or middle-aged men who could testify in this way from their own childhood experience - but in every generation - a new band of fresh young witnesses were enrolled in the same manner.

Now the need for this form of memory-training exists no longer but the bounds are still beaten in a variety of parishes.   Mostely it is the boundary marks themselves which are beaten today with white willow wands that the boys carry.   In the Tower of London where bounds are beaten on Ascension Day once every three years, a procession of Yeoman Warders in full scarlet and gold commanded by the Resident Governor in full dress, the Chaplain, the choirboys in red cassocks and carrying willow wands and the Tower residents perambulate the Tower limits and stop at each of the 39 Crown Boundary marks.   Beside each one the Chaplain says in a loud voice "Cursed be he who removeth his neighbour's landmark" and the Chief Warder calls "Wack it boys, wack it!" at which point the boys bring down thier wands upon the mark with the greatest enthusiasm.

The London Parish of St Clement Danes has 25 surviving marks, each bearing the anchor of St Clement upon it.   One of them is now below ground level and in order to reach it, a choirboy has to be held by the ankles and lowered towards it so that he may strike it.   Part of the boundary of this parish runs down the middle of the River Thames and the procession has to take to boats for that part of their journey.

At Brixham there is an open-air service by the waterside on Rogation Sunday as there is at Hastings and one or two places along the Kent Coast on other days of the same week.

Walking the Barham boundaries - as far as is possible is a day's walk but the A2 road makes this difficult and dangerous.   Some boys are still "bumped" on boundary stones which still exist.   There is one by the A2 between Out Elmstead Lane and Black Robin Lane.