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This impressive turn-out was in fact the culmination of an ancient ceremony that dates back to early medieval times. During Rogationtide, the period leading up to Ascension Day, it was customary to go in procession around the boundaries of the parish to ensure that the boundary markers were still in place. The bounds were solemnly beaten with willow rods, echoing an ancient pagan custom intended to make the earth more fruitful, and outlying houses
and farms were visited en route.
Our journey began with a service in St Bride’s for the Worshipful Company of Marketors before we then set off up Fleet Street towards the evening sun to our western boundary at Chancery Lane. We congregated outside St Dunstan-in-the-West and, after the solemn invocation - repeated three times - of "Cursed be he who removeth his neighbour's landmark," we beat the pavement vigorously with our sticks, to the amazement of passers-by. After a cheery wave from the Revd. William Gulliford, priest of St Dunstan-in-the-West, we wended our way in a winding crocodile back to Whitefriars Street, pausing at the Harrow public house, where more beating of boundaries took place. We also tarried here for much-needed refreshment before heading down to the Embankment.
As we looked out on London's river we beat our southern boundary (which
actually goes down the middle of the Thames), then walked on to the Blackfriar public house, a riot of Art Nouveau decoration. Here we were met by the parishioners of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, and a boundary dispute broke out between the two Rectors. Before an ugly scene could develop, Alderman Richard Agutter summoned us both to appear before the Bishop of London on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, so off we trooped behind the throng.
At St Paul's there was a demonstration of sword-dancing, the English Chamber Choir sang, and two chastened clerics were brought before the Bishop, who made us kiss and make up, and postponed his judgement until next year. Then the Ale Conners tested the ale, and the Bishop lifted his tankard and toasted all present. The gathering dispersed to various hostelries in the area, the Rector and churchwardens proceeding to The Old Bell public house to present an olive wreath to the landlady in honour of her excellent ale. Further splendid refreshment was taken at El Vino's in New Bridge Street, sitting outside enjoying the warm spring evening.
We had asserted our ancient rights, enjoyed good fellowship, and brought diverse elements of the parish together. We'll certainly repeat it again next year, covering a different part of the parish boundary and advertising the event even more widely. And next year the Bishop will have to come off the fence and make a definitive judgement about our disputed boundary. Woe betide him
if he rules in favour of the other lot....