BEATING THE BOUNDS
Beating the Bounds is an annual custom which died out in the 1920s. It was revived to commemorate the town’s 700th mayoral anniversary and Mayor Frances Alexander re-introduced it during her year of office in 1998-99. As part of her Mayor’s challenge, marker stones have been placed at the site of most of the boundary stones. It has now once again become an annual tradition. Historically, Beating the Bounds was carried out to mark the boundary of the town, to bless the crops in the fields and to bring people together in a spirit of friendship. One aspect of the tradition unique to High Wycombe is the ‘bumping box’. A small wooden box is kept in the Mayor’s parlour and used to bump boys against at various points on the route.
How did the custom originate?
Nobody is sure when, where or why the tradition began but it certainly dates back many centuries. It is unknown why at various points boys are ‘bumped’ but it is a custom that took place in almost every town throughout Britain until the 19th century and is still continued in some.
Why beat the bounds?
In days before Ordnance Survey maps there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, and so beating the bounds was introduced to make sure people knew where the exact boundary line was. Processions to bless the crops and to include “beating the bounds” developed from the old Roman rites of Robigalia.
Is it truly a custom associated with High Wycombe?
Certainly! Historical records show it to be very many years old, dying out in the 1920’s. It was revived to commemorate the town’s 700th mayoral anniversary and Mayor Cllr Frances Alexander re-introduced it during her year in 1998-1999. As part of her Mayor’s Challenge marker stones have been placed at the site of some of the boundary stones. One aspect of the tradition unique to High Wycombe is the ‘bumping box’. A small wooden box is kept in the Mayor’s Parlour and used to bump the boys against.
The importance of Beating the Bounds
The ceremony used to be very important and one of the highlights of the year for people in the town. The actual boundary line was almost sacred and woe betides anyone who had built their house on the line. There are reports of the whole procession marching through the front door of a house built on the line and out the back window. In the village of Piddington there is a tale that one of the young boys was made to crawl across the roof of a house, down the chimney and out the back door! And in London a stage coach once refused to move off the line and so the whole procession promptly climbed through one door and out the other.