The Beating of the Bounds
Back in the old days, today, May 2nd [or rather, the 'Rogation Days' which vary in date], was the day the boys of the village were whipped, to teach them the boundaries of the Church. This proceeding was called 'the beating of the bounds'. The idea was that if you received a whuppin' as a lad (doubtless, more than once), you would remember where the boundaries were, when you were older. The younguns were frogmarched around the property, and beaten at all the important parts. Nothing like a stick and a good whipping to teach the important stuff.
The ancient custom of perambulating parishes in Rogation week had a two-fold object. It was designed to supplicate the Divine blessing on the fruits of the earth; and to preserve in all classes of the community a correct knowledge of, and due respect for, the bounds of parochial and individual property. It appears to have been derived from a still older custom among the ancient Romans, called Terminalia, and Ambarvalia, which were festivals in honour of the god Terminus and the goddess Ceres. On becoming a Christian custom the heathen rites and ceremonies were of course discarded, and those of Christianity substituted. It was appointed to be observed on one of the Rogation days which were the three days next before Ascension Day. These days were so called from having been appropriated in the fifth century by Mamercus, Bishop of Vienna, to special prayer and fasting on account of the frequent earthquakes which had destroyed, or greatly injured vegetation.
Before the Reformation parochial perambulations were conducted with great ceremony. The lord of the manor, with a large banner, priests in surplices and with crosses, and other persons with hand-bells, banners and staves, followed by most of the parishioners, walked in procession round the parish, stopping at crosses, forming crosses on the ground, 'saying or singing gospels to the corn,' and allowing 'drinkings and good cheer; 'which was remarkable, as the Rogation days were appointed fasts. From the different practices observed on the occasion the custom received the various names of processioning, rogationing, perambulating, and ganging the boundaries; and the week in which it was observed was called Rogation week; Cross week, because crosses were borne in the processions; and Grass week, because the Rogation days being fasts, vegetables formed the chief portion of diet.
At the Reformation, the ceremonies and practices deemed objectionable were abolished, and only 'the useful and harmless part of the custom retained. 'Yet its observance was considered so desirable, that a homily was prepared for the occasion; and injunctions were issued requiring that for 'the perambulation of the circuits of parishes, the people should once in the year, at the time accustomed, with the rector, vicar, or curate, and the substantial men of the parish, walk about the parishes, as they were accustomed, and at their return to the church make their common prayer. And the curate, in their said common perambulations, was at certain convenient places to admonish the people to give thanks to God (while beholding of his benefits), and for the increase and abundance of his fruits upon the face of the earth, with the saying of the 103rd Psalm. At which time also the said minister was required to inculcate these, or such like sentences, Cursed be he which translateth the bounds and doles of his neighbour; or such other order of prayers as should be lawfully appointed.'
In strict accordance with these directions, we find that 'the judicious Richard Hooker,' who is allowed by all parties to be a faithful exemplar of a true English Churchman, duly observed the custom of perambulation. 'He would by no means,' says his biographer, 'omit the customary time of procession, persuading all, both rich and poor, if they desired the preservation of love, and their parish rights and liberties, to accompany him in his perambulation, and most did so; in which perambulation he would usually express more pleasant discourse than at other times, and would then always drop some loving and facetious observations to be remembered against the next year, especially by the boys and young people; still inclining them and all his present parishioners to meekness, and mutual kindnesses, and love; because love thinks not evil, but covers a multitude of infirmities.'
Rest at the link. A picture of the proceedings -- notice the *really long stick* and lots of similarly armed Good White Grownups, following behind, to help with the proceedings:
Also, notice there are no skittles or hoodies.