No-one was whipped; no small boys had their heads cracked on boundary stones so that they would never forget, but a charming and ancient ritual was revived when Wellington’s Mayor, Vivienne Stock-Williams, led Town Councillors, their families and friends around the boundary of the town and, in doing so, brought back to life a tradition last practised in Wellington in 1983.
David Mitton, a member of the Wellington Town Council’s Footpaths’ Committee, explained: ‘It was suggested to the committee that, as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, we should remind ourselves of the extent of the parish in a very active way. Beating the bounds used to be one of the duties of the church, led by the parish priest, but it seems appropriate that the Town Council has taken on the role. The Footpaths’ Committee seeks to preserve local rights of way and works together with landowners and developers to ensure they are not lost. The bounds used to be beaten every ten years but the tradition has lapsed.’
The practice dates back to Anglo Saxon times. Its original purpose was to share knowledge of the extent of the parish boundary at a time when maps and written records were rare. By walking the line around the town, local people could check that boundary markers were clear and had not been moved. Local people’s rights to be buried in a churchyard and their duty to contribute to the repair of a church were determined by their residence within each boundary. So that the knowledge of where the boundaries lay was not forgotten, members of the local community would patrol them with green boughs to beat the markers. Small boys would be whipped with the boughs or have their heads banged against the markers so that they would not forget their local geography.
Vivienne Stock-Williams led nearly 40 local residents from a starting point on Chelston roundabout along the 7 mile walk. They passed many of the town’s historic sites such as the old carriage drive entrance to Nynehead Court, Perry Elm Farm which dates back to 1615 and Tone Works, part of Fox’s Woollen Mill. En route, walkers were served with cream teas at Prowses Mill and those who ‘beat’ the entire boundary celebrated their achievement at the Skylark pub.