Beating the Bounds of
Thursday 23rd May 2019
Beating the Bounds of the Ward of Aldersgate: 23rd May 2019
Each year, members of the Ward Club recreate an ancient custom, which, under the name ‘Gangdays’, predates the Norman Conquest. At a time when maps were rare, a formal walking tour of parish boundaries ensured that a practical knowledge of the boundary was handed down, as an oral tradition, to the next generation. This practice, led by the parish priest and other dignitaries, included a crowd of boys following on who, armed with boughs, usually of birch or willow, beat the boundary markers with them. Unfortunately for the boys, they themselves were sometimes whipped or violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember! Hardly ‘the good old days’…
Fortunately, today’s practice is both more ceremonial and enjoyably festive. On a warm, sunny morning in Postman’s Park, pupils from the Preparatory Department of the City of London School for Girls with drums and musical instruments joined some 30 or so participants, together with children from Prior Weston Primary School who came wearing period costume. The Master welcomed everyone and introduced the ‘Beat Marshall’, Past Master Tony Croot. The Master then led the first ‘Beat’ which was conducted by Adrian Bastow CC. Happily for the children from Prior Weston, the historic ‘whipping and violent bumping’ now takes the form of being tossed in the air from a large tarpaulin, with the participants clearly eager to each take a turn!
The procession was accompanied throughout with music and song provided by the pupils from the Girls School, including a veritable ‘asylum’ of cuckoos – according to Country Life (I looked it up). Stops were made outside the Gresham Centre at the Church of St Anne and St Agnes, Pewterers’ Hall, Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, Ironmongers’ Hall, the Aldersgate Ward Tree on Aldersgate Street (the current tree planted by Past Master Rod Van Tienen), the Barbican Podium garden at the northernmost extremity of Aldersgate Ward and finally on the piazza outside the Barbican Estate Office.
The Master, the Senior Warden, no fewer than five Past Masters and a Common Councilman for the Ward of Aldersgate conducted the eight ‘Beats’. Along the way, refreshments were provided initially at Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, where the current Master Barber, Mr Tim Cutler, welcomed everyone and gave a brief and very lively account of the company’s history to the children. Whilst mention of blood was made, a ‘PG-rated’ classification proved to be unnecessary! Our second stop at Ironmongers’ Hall included a very warm welcome from the Beadle and an entertaining talk from the Clerk, Colonel Charlie Knaggs,OBE, which involved all the children taking part in a ‘count the salamanders’ examination of the main staircase leading to the Great Hall. As they say, “you had to be there…”
The final ‘Beat’, led by Past Master Andrew Hamilton, took place outside the Barbican Estate Office, with old friends from the Estate Office staff serving refreshments to everyone afterwards. Here there was time to relax, chat and enjoy the sunshine before being summoned to take the short walk to the Italian restaurant Apulia in Long Lane. A delicious three-course lunch with wine and abundant good fellowship completed a thoroughly enjoyable experience and our thanks go to everyone involved in planning, entertaining and feeding us all so delightfully.