On Beating the Bounds….51/100

Picture the scene…..you are walking between meetings in the City, take away coffee attached to one hand. Mobile to the other. If very clever, a sneaky fag in there somewhere as well. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye you see it. A gaggle of school aged children in smart uniform, with a Vicar, and some other people in fur-lined robes, just there on the P1010973pavement. They seem to be singing. A hymn perhaps….and then you notice the sticks. The long sticks. In the hands of the school children. Who begin smacking these sticks on the ground in an enthusiastic manner. Have the post-work sessions in the pub finally rattled the brain, is this some sort of anger-management seminar, or maybe a new reality television nightmare??? Actually, the average City worker would think none of these things, would only nonchalantly move out of the way without breaking step, used as they are to crazy shenanigans in the City. Tourists, on the other hand, go wild. Cameras and phones whirring away. I would love to know how they try to explain it to the folks back home.

 

And here I am. In the mix. Because I do love a City ceremony, and this is one of the best. The Beating of the Bounds. Ascension Day. With All Hallows by the Tower. And St. Dunstan’s College. The Worshipful Company of the Waterman and Lightermen, as well (yes, them again, of the Knollys Rose Ceremony, post #48, a busy season!) A ceremony dating back to Anglo-466215_651787474847977_903993130_oSaxon times, now just for traditional purposes, but in times of old to make sure, MAKE SURE everyone knew exactly where the boundaries of the parish of St. Dunstan’s in the East were…in case anyone got any ideas about pinching a few feet. We are a protective species, especially when it comes to land. Death by hedgerow dispute remains a reality. We like our borders and our boundaries (cue Brexit furor).

The boundaries are roughly that of the parish of St. Dunstan in the East, a beautiful 13th century church that survived the Great Fire of 1666, though Christopher Wren rebuilt the tower in the late 17th century.  Today, only the tower remains as the rest of the church was destroyed in WWII; the former footprint of the nave is now a lovely, almost secret public garden. Following its destruction, the parish was amalgamated into that of All Hallows by the Tower, which is why the privilege of leading this ceremony now rests 472335_651788098181248_292800350_owith them.  The school of St. Dunstan’s dates back to the 15th century and when, by mid-19th century, the City had ceased to become a residential area, it was moved to Catford, SE London, where it remains. What an honour to be selected as one of the students taking part; proud parents are always an element of the procession. And what a great day off school for the kids, instead of double maths some public stick smacking. Nice.

The beating starts at the Tower and then moves to the river, because the south boundary is mid-Thames. In days of old, parish worthies would take a boat out and dangle a small boy upside down by the ankles over the water and let him give the river a good thrashing. I have seen pictures. Quite remarkable really. Sadly, health and safety no longer allow this kind of priceless photo op and instead the students (boys and  girls) ride out an a vessel and tap the water, with their very long sticks,  from a standing position. The procession continues on land, stopping at several points, including the tower of St Dunstan’s in the 462451_651787644847960_1777160827_oEast, Planation House and Seething Lane before returning to All Hallows. A thoroughly satisfying afternoon. History, odd behavior, some old buildings, a little walk and men in costume. Instagrammers dream. What isn’t to love?  And next year there will be a battle. With the Beefeater’s at the Tower of London….watch this space.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “On Beating the Bounds….51/100”

  1. Oddly enough, I’ve been researching these traditions in connection with the 800th anniversary of the Mayorality of Newcastle. I also popped in the the Guildhall Art Gallery, yesterday, and took in the ‘Unseen City’ photo exhibition, which looks behind the scenes at some of these Lonodn traditions.

    It begs all sorts of questions that I can’t resolve. Originally, many of these traditions were about visible exercises of power. That function has fallen by the wayside but the traditions kept going. Now it seems to be about visible exercises of continuity. The Victorians loved this stuff because they needed the illusion of continuity in the face of radical societal changes. Now..? In Newcastle at least, the Council continues to financially support the office of Lord Mayor and the traditions that go with it, so they have to see cultural or political value in it. But I can’t get my head around what would be lost if we just stopped it all.

    Anyway, thanks for the different perspective.

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  2. As with everything, City of London is different. The City Corporation is very very very wealthy. Greater London would love to get their hands on this money, Ken Livingstone was particularly desperate, but never ever going to happen. The Lord Mayor does not get paid, and I believe he funds many events himself. He is literally the ambassador for the City, aka the financial district, and spends much of his year in office traveling with the Foreign Office promoting the City as the ideal place to do business. Should Brexit happen I imagine this role will become even more important. Livery companies use their substantial wealth to fund many many charities…they like to have fun too. And what could be more fun than an ancient ceremony in a modern street! Thanks for your interest!!!

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