Does Beating the Bounds still take place?

Yes, it certainly does- and it happens right here in Greater Manchester! Here our Oldham reporter Mike Dodd tells us all about it.

Swimmers marking Crompton and Shaw parish, 1965

Beating the Bounds is an ancient custom from Anglo Saxon times. During the ritual, a group of prominent elders would walk the geographical boundary of their locality, to impress a memory on future generations.

Before people could read, just about every town and parish carried out its own annual ceremony of ‘Beating the Bounds’.

The elders, armed with birch twigs, would head a crowd of young people around the boundary, beating the stones with their sticks (sometimes beating the youngsters as well, to further impress their memories!).

Preparation to cross Beson Hill Resoviour, 1958

Today, with maps and other measures, it might seem somewhat barbaric, but in prior times it was necessary to know the Parish in which you resided. It was important to know when you left your area, to know to whom to pay taxes and even to know where you would be entitled to be buried! For landowners, it was also very useful to avoid disputes.

Oldham’s Shaw and Crompton Parish Council revived Beating the Bounds at the turn of the present century, albeit only on a seven-year basis.

The route is about 13 miles long and in addition to the beautiful scenery, it has had some very interesting elements, like swimming across Besom Reservoir, because the Shaw and Crompton boundary goes down the middle, and climbing over the roof of the King’s Arms Pub at Grain’s Bar, because the boundary, is also the old Lancashire/Yorkshire boundary and goes straight through the pub and there aren’t opposite doors to allow for a walk through!

The Chairman of Crompton Council on the roof of the King’s Arms pub, 1972

Don’t just take my word for it: the next scheduled Beating the Bounds is this year. And don’t worry, you won’t have to swim in the reservoir or climb any roofs!

The reservoir has been drained, the pub has two doors, and you can stand inside and rock or sway between rooms with one foot in Lancashire and one in Yorkshire.

For further information about this year’s event, please contact the Parish Clerk, Shaw and Crompton Parish Council.


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