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In ancient times, groups marked the bounds of their territory using natural features, such as streams, trees and large rocks. Sometimes these boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and so a custom arose of the inhabitants of a settlement occasionally checking or beating the boundaries of their territory as a way of preventing encroachment by neighbours. A group of old and young members of the community would walk round the whole boundary. The boys would be encouraged to beat the boundary markers with green boughs, usually birch or willow, and so a folk memory of the true extent of the territory was passed on down the generations.
Later the custom became a religious ceremony during Rogation week with the clergy accompanying the group and beseeching (rogare) the divine blessing upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest.
Knowledge of the bounds of each parish was also needed to administer the rights and responsibilities between a parish and its inhabitants. For instance, the parish’s right to refuse a stranger permanent residence and its responsibility to support its own poor, or the parishioner’s responsibility to contribute to the support of the church and the poor of the parish. And so maintaining the knowledge of the parish limits by beating the bounds remained an important custom until the advent of detailed maps in the 19th C. This could have had particular significance in Rode, as the boundary between Rode in Somerset and Rode Hill (North Bradley) in Wiltshire followed the brook running down Lower Street. Permission would therefore have been required to move house from one side of Lower Street to the other.
Although modern maps make the custom obsolete, at least for its secular purpose, many English parishes, including Rode, occasionally repeat the practice as a way of strengthening the community and giving it a sense of place. A description of the event in 1995 was written for the village magazine, the Link.