Beating the Bounds
an ancient custom of the parish
According to Edward Ironside, in his history “the history and antiquities of Twickenham : being the first part of parochial collections for the co. of Middlesex : begun in 1780”, published in 1797, the ceremony of Beating the Bounds of the parish described a curious procedure at a particular place on the parish boundary with Isleworth.
The Twickenham Park estate lay partly in Twickenham and partly in Isleworth parish. The mansion itself actually straddled the boundary and so marking its line involved a journey through the house. This was described by Ironside, on page 77, as follows:
In the Hall fronting to the South-West is laid in the mosaic pavement of white marble, a small iron cross, which divides the two parishes. And, in their perambulation of the bounds, the parishioners of Twickenham direct a man to enter a window at the North-West end of the house, who proceeds to the centre, comes down stairs, and joins the company in the hall, where they sing the hundredth psalm. He then goes upstairs and proceeds to a South-West window, and comes down a ladder on the outside, joins the company again, and thus the ceremony ends.
Why the man had to go upstairs is not clear, although it is possible that there were no ground floor windows at either end of the mansion, where the notional line of the boundary entered and made its exit.
Apparently, refreshments were served at the conclusion. What is not known is just what procedure was employed by the parishioners of Isleworth. If they beat their own bounds, as was the custom on Ascension Day or during Rogation Week, the parties might have met, perhaps coming from different directions, which could have enlivened the proceedings in the house.