In August 1928, when Barrett
Jenkins recorded these scenes on celluloid, Southwold's Beating the Bounds
ritual was clearly regarded as a major summer entertainment for the Borough
Council, townsfolk and visitors.
One of Southwold's 'Bound Posts' chances to lie on the Walberswick side
of the river, necessitating a boat trip by the beaters onto neighbouring
territory, an act of ritualised 'invasion' which is traditionally the
cause of (mainly good-humoured) rivalry between the two communities.
The practice of 'perambulating'
the bounds is a surviving festival in many British towns. Originating
in Celtic and Saxon times, it seems to have been a combination of fertility
rite and territorial reaffirmation. It traditionally took place at Beltane
or Mayday. Rods of birch (the first tree to come into leaf) were used
to beat a series of landmarks around the perimeter of a community to impress
upon its members and upon neighbouring communities exactly where its territorial
boundaries lay. In some areas the ritual involved beating young boys at
each boundary post, as well as the post itself, to impress upon emerging
generations the importance of perpetuating territorial rights.
In Southwold, the practice
seems of relatively recent origin. Southwold's 19th Century chronicler,
James Maggs, records that it was in 1738, that the Corporation first commanded
a perambulation in Rogation Week. In 1884 Maggs witnessed the festival
himself on July 1st.
"The Townsmen went
their Perambulations, started from Long Island Cliff - the Recorder Jas.
Jermyn Esq, Bailiffs Soloman Grout & John Sutherland Esqs, Chamberlains
Messres Peregrine Edwards and Wm Crisp and many others took Boats and
proceeding along shore to the Haven into which they went - thence to the
end of Buss Creek - thence to the Bound Post & so on to the place
of starting. Here the usual ceremony of bumping several persons was gone
through with throwing one another into the Sea et et."
Beating the Bounds still takes
place in Southwold every so often. It was observed in June 2009 as one
of the events to commemorate the 500th anniversary of William Godell's
bequest of land to the town.