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Barking Mad

It’s Ascension day today, and do you know what that means? That’s right – it’s time to beat the bounds. ‘Beating The Bounds’ is a 2000-year-old tradition in which villagers parade around their parish beating everything with sticks, or ‘wands’ made from willow. The tradition was altered by the church at one point so that it was boys’ heads that were whipped with these wands, or whipped on their rears as this strange clip from Addlestone in 1938 depicts!  ‘Boy bishops’ is another feature of ‘Beating The Bounds’ where a local boy is selected and dressed up as a bishop in full religious regalia, as a symbolic parody and upturn of power, an idea that was superimposed over the pagan notion of ‘king for a day’. The website http://www.strangebritain.co.uk tells us that “Curiously, other marker points around the boundary would also be beaten by literally bumping a boy (often a choirboy) against the mark. The boy would be suspended upside down and his head gently tapped against the stone or he would be taken by the feet and hands and swung against a tree! Nobody knows why or how the tradition originated. One explanation advanced is that it was intended to teach the young their parish’s limits and that the bumping of choir boys – at one time all the local children would have been involved – was ‘to help them remember’.”

The British Pathe archive naturally has some footage of various villages beating the bounds – here you can watch 8 archive videos of ‘Beating The Bounds’

The photograph above is taken from our clip of a 1937 ‘Beating The Bounds’ in Barking.

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