Walking the Parish Boundaries

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Walking the Parish Boundaries – Beating the Bounds

(Talk given to Repton History Group, 19/2/13 by Richard Wain)

The custom has its roots in Rogation Tide – a Christian ceremony for blessing the crops designed to replace an earlier pagan rite for crop fertility.  Rogation Tide is the period preceding Ascension Day and is usually in early May.  In the 5th century the Bishop of Vienne stated that the Church should ask for the Lord’s help to ensure crop growth, after a series of environmental disasters.  The name comes from the Latin verb ‘rogare’ – to ask.

So that the priest could bless the crops he, together with the churchwardens and the congregation walked round the parish at Rogation Tide.  Because of boundary disputes, lack of maps and the inability to read them, it was decreed in Elizabethan times that the ceremony should encompass the boundaries of each parish in full.  Most parish boundaries were defined by large stones, mature trees, streams or dykes.  Some parishes have written descriptions dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period.

To ensure that the boundaries were fixed in parishioners’ minds it was usual to make an event at each parish corner.  Stones or trees were marked and the children in the party were gently beaten or bumped on the ground to remind them of these places. Until the Rights of Way Act in the 1940’s, Parish Councils had the right to visit the boundaries even on private land.

In 1990 I was a member of the Bagshot and Windlesham Society and I was invited to e Chairman of the Footpath Committee.  We used to issue local walk leaflets similar to those published in Repton in 1995.  We decided to research the parish boundary and in 1999 publish a map that showed public rights of way for a walk as close to the boundary as possible.  (show map)  this is a cut-down version of the leaflet produced.  Bagshot and Windlesham (in the N.E corner of Surrey) is the largest parish in England and the walk is 15 miles in length.  As well as instructions, shown in the boxes, the leaflet records the boundary stones, historical buildings and pubs for refreshment.  A copy of the leaflet was included in a millennium capsule buried at Windlesham in 2000. 

In Victorian times Beating the Bounds was a popular village event.  In 1896 the Windleshan Parish magazine records that ‘thirty-five walkers were accompanied by a fife and drum band that played lively airs on the way.’  They started at 9am and finished at 5pm – and it rained all day.  They were armed with a map, spade ad hatchets and ploughed through private property and across the railway line; ‘the big drum performed an astonishing descent down the embankment’.  At the finish the band played the National Anthem and on the following Sunday the rector preached a sermon on the text ‘Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark.’

Nearer to Repton is the Wetmore Parish Boundary Walk.  In 1012AD King Aethelred sold the parish of Wetmore to the Abbot of Burton for 70 pounds of gold and silver.  The deed was recorded in Latin but the description of the boundary is in Anglo-Saxon.  A 13th century copy of the charter still exists.  Fortunately the route can be translated into modern English.  In those days the parish of Wetmore included Wetmore, Horninglow, Shobnall, Outwoods and Stretton (show map). 

The boundary starts on Broadholme, ‘the island in the Trent where the thieves hang.’  It goes up Horninglow Street to meet the Walsich Brook (now in a culvert) and across to the Shobnall Brook which is followed up Henhurst Hill.  The boundary then follows the Anslow Dyke until it reaches the Tutbury Road.  It then cuts across to Beacon Hill to pick up the Stretton Brook, which is sometimes visible and sometimes in a culvert. The brook is followed down to the Trent, and the boundary then follows the river back to Broadholme, passing the site of Wetmore Hall on the way.

I first read about the Wetmore boundary in Underhill’s ‘History of Burton’ in 1940.  It became a boyhood dream to walk it and fortunately in 2011 Richard Stone, our local historian, had a go at interpreting the  old and current landscape features.  Nowadays one has to use rights of way, but he and I agreed a route which closely followed the boundary. In February 2012 my wife Shelagh and I walked the 11 mile-long boundary 1,000 years after it was first recorded.  The route map and instructions are available on the Civic Society website.  Unfortunately the only pubs on this route are near the beginning and end, and we only found one possible boundary stone.

What does the parish of Repton offer?  I do not know what records exist of Repton’s boundaries or of walking them.  When I returned to this area in 2001, my wife Shelagh and I started walking the local field footpaths and we renewed our interest in parish boundaries. 

I have traced out the current Repton boundary (see map) and have sorted out rights of way that closely follow it, resulting in a 13-mile circular walk.

Starting at Repton Church, go along Monsom Lane to Old TrentWater.  Follow the footpath parallel to the Trent (this is the route of Repton Ramble no.2).  At Twyford Ferry take the path across the fields to Foremarke Church and carry straight on over the hill to come to the Milton-Ticknall road.  Stay on the wide verge past Bendalls Farm and turn right into the road to Foremark reservoir.  At the refreshment kiosk (open in summer) turn right on the grass path and follow the lakeside path as far as the footbridge. (Note possible boundary stone)  Cross bridge and take the path up to Bondwood Farm road, where you turn right.  At Repton Shrubs fork left and left again, keeping the wood on the left, following the path to Bretby Mill.  Turn right onto the Repton-Hartshorne road and walk with care to the footpath up to Hill Farm.  Cross Knights Lane and take footpaths to Newton Lane, follow the lane into Newton. (Refreshments at two pubs).  Take Trent Lane down to the river and follow the footpath past St.Anne’s Well and back to the church.

Shelagh and I have walked  all these paths in stages but not the whole walk.

Is there any interest in the following

  1. Walking the boundary.
  2. Publishing a leaflet/putting the walk on the website.
  3. Researching the history of places on the route – boundary stones.
  4. Researching the history of ‘beating the bounds’ in Repton.

Map 1             Map 2             Map 3