Alan Duke passes the footpath sign at Out Elmstead.
Kath Stone and dog lead the way...
route across lower Barham Downs.
the Black Robin with Jenny Barling leading
and Ken Frisby carrying the Village Coat of Arms.
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
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