Waddesdon is one of the few parishes that still “beat the bounds” – a centuries-old tradition, aimed at reminding everyone of boundaries that were important in their lives.
The Waddesdon ceremony took a procession including church wardens and parishioners through Westcott on Tuesday 16th May this year. The ritual takes place every seven years at Rogationtide, on the Monday and Tuesday before Holy Thursday, the Feast of the Ascension, and covers a distance of 40 miles.
Beating the bounds which goes back to at least 1693 was suspended in Waddesdon during World War Two and started again in 1945 - just a few days after VE day.
The origin of the ancient custom can be traced back to the Gangdays during the time of the Norman Conquest, although its beginning varied in different parts of the country. In former times when maps were rare it was usual to make a “formal perambulation” of the parish boundaries to hand down knowledge so that matters such as liability to contribute to the repair of the church and the right to be buried in the churchyard were not disputed.
The procession was usually headed by a crowd of young boys, who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Sometimes the boys themselves were whipped or violently bumped on the boundary stones to make them remember.
The object of taking boys is supposed to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. Checking the boundaries also prevented encroachment by neighbours and boundaries were marked by carving a cross on tree trunks and cutting the shape of a cross in banks of streams.
On the first day the procession met at a point where a stream crosses the Quainton Road. After a short service a cross was cut in the turf and the young boy is held upside down and beaten – symbolically these days!