This is a podcast made by the Making Suburban Faith team when we took part in the Beating the Bounds walk on May Bank Holiday Monday 2015. Beating the Bounds is an ancient tradition, carried out once a year when the parish priest, churchwardens and congregation would walk around the formal boundary of the parish. They would mark the boundary stones of the parish, sometimes by ‘bumping’ the boys of the parish on the stones. The walk served a practical purpose to determine the true extent of the parish, ensuring the extent of those required to contribute to the church, or who might require its services, such as burial. The young boys were supposed to ensure that this knowledge of the parish boundaries was passed on through oral tradition.
Traditionally Beating the Bounds took place on Ascension Day or in Rogation week and would also involve prayer and intercessions for Spring and a good harvest. In England the tradition stretches back at least as far as the Anglo-Saxons and probably has both Roman and Pagan origins.
The Beating the Bounds of the Old Parish of Hanwell been revived in recent years in Hanwell as a community event which raises money for Hanwell Carnival, one of the oldest Carnivals in London. It is no longer led by priests, although it does include, of course the parish church of St Mary’s in Hanwell and the famous Gospel Oak tree, which once marked the site of outdoor services between the parishes of Hanwell and Brentford. Like the carnival procession itself, Beating the Bounds blends secular and religious understandings of suburban space, and their intertwined and changing histories. The route takes in the canal, tube-station, semi-detached houses and back gardens, allotments, the golf course, a housing estate and edge city green spaces along the roadside.
In 2015, as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival we took part in the Carnival, holding a stall to share our research project ‘Making Suburban Faith’ with the public and inviting them to share their own stories of religious and secular walks in Hanwell. We decided to join the Beating the Bounds walk to learn more about this ‘reinvented’ tradition and what it means to those who take part. In this short podcast we share conversations with some of those involved in re-establishing the walk, hearing about how the special boundary stones song was composed and how new boundary stones have been unearthed each year, as well as talking to some of those who have chosen to join the walk.
The podcast was made by Claire Dwyer and Natalie Hyacinth and is accompanied by a series of photographs by Laura Cuch.
For the full album of photographs taken by Laura please visit