This film is part of Free

Beating the Bounds at St Albans

An ancient parish custom is revived by twentieth century merrymakers in the historic Hertfordshire market-town.

Non-Fiction 1913 3 mins


Armed with wands of willow, the people of St Albans take to the fields for the annual ceremonial marking or 'beating' of the parish boundaries. Among the high-spirited chaos, this newsreel item shows a man and a woman being 'bumped' on a boundary-stone, to the delight of onlookers. Moving back to town, local dignitaries are jostled by brass bands and an ecstatic crowd in the grid-locked centre.

One of the longest-running events in the English calendar, 'beating the bounds' traditionally took place in various locations on Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter. The St Albans ceremony (which claims to date back to the 13th century) is one of a few surviving celebrations of its kind. The intertitle tells us that this occasion in 1913 marked a revival of the custom after a 34-year lapse, which helps explain the particularly large crowd. Today the event continues to serve as a focus for community bonding and general merrymaking.