There was fine weather for the 2016 annual ceremony of Beating the Bounds of the Parish of All Hallows’ by the Tower on Thursday 5th May, and the Clerk (wearing his comfiest shoes) joined the procession on behalf of the Guild of Entrepreneurs. Never knowingly underdressed, even the Clerk felt a little outdone by a cadre of Doggett’s men of the Watermen & Lightermen’s Company, resplendent in their red coats and silver badges, who processed with the robed Masters and Clerks of the Bakers, World Traders, Watermen & Lightermen, and a whole host of other dignitaries and representatives.
The origins of the custom go back to medieval times, when parishes reaffirmed their boundaries by processing round them at Rogationtide, stopping to beat each boundary mark with wands and to pray for protection and blessings for the land.
Led by the Vicar, the Reverend Bertrand Olivier, the Beating Party of students from St. Dunstan’s College proceeded to strike the pavements and steps of selected surrounding streets (and even the midst of the River Thames from the relative safety of a motor launch) with willow and hazel staves. By the time the procession returned to church for the much-needed tea, the parishioners (plus startled tourists, commuters, and the staff of Pret-a-Manger) were in no doubt as to the extent of All Hallows’ parochial bounds.
Festal Evensong followed, with the Chapel Choir of St. Dunstan’s College in fine voice, and the Venerable Rosemary Lain-Priestley delivered an appropriately uplifting sermon.
NOTE: Every third year the All Hallows’ Beating Party ceremonially confronts the Resident Governor and Yeoman Wardens of the Tower of London. Next year’s beating (Thursday, 25th May 2017) will incorporate this triennial ‘battle’, which commemorates an outbreak of violence in 1698 between those in the Tower and those in the adjacent parish.