The ancient tradition of Beating the Borough Bounds of Hatherleigh

Laura White
Laura White
beating the bounds in 1937 / beating the bounds in 1937

By Deborah Laing-Trengove

The ancient tradition of Beating the Bounds of the Borough of Hatherleigh took place on Bank Holiday Monday, 30th of August.

The perambulation of the seven and a half to eight mile boundary has taken place every seven years within living memory, but the tradition goes back far longer, possibly to the 13th century, when the earliest known grant of Borough status was awarded to the town by the Crown.

In the early 20th century, records show that the walk was usually undertaken after the meeting of the Borough Court, where the running and business of the Borough was discussed and regulated. It is likely that this may have been the custom in previous centuries. In the past the Manor and Borough Courts were important authorities managing and regulating the business and agricultural activities of the tenants of
the area.

Since the 10th century and prior to the Reformation of the 16th century, the title of Lord of the Manor, and later the Lord of the Borough of Hatherleigh, was held by Tavistock Abbey. Since 1791 the title has remained in the hands of a single family, but the Courts of the Manor and Borough no longer have any real authority over the people of Hatherleigh and are not held regularly.

Now the Beating of the Bounds is organised by the Town Council with help from the Hatherleigh Moor Management Committee (HMMC). But the current Lord of the Manor and Borough, being a member of both committees is very involved in the organisation and running of the event.
This year approximately 220 people began the walk at Hole Court at 11am and moved off through the churchyard to pass through fields, woodland and the open moorland of Hatherleigh Moor, over fences and hedges and through ditches to finish in the Town Square at around 4.30pm.

Although the modern route has, by necessity, had to deviate slightly in part due to the wishes or concerns of the now private land owners over which the route passes, or due to modern developments, it keeps as faithfully as possible to the oldest.

On route were the customary breaks, firstly for the traditional group photograph at the Monument at the top of the Moor, followed by refreshments provided by HMMC on a lower part of the Moor.
The final break was at Passaford Bridge, where members of the Town Council threw coins from the footbridge into the River Lew for the assembled children to collect.

This year, for the first time, modern concerns necessitated the creation of a risk assessment and appointment of stewards wearing high visibility etc, but this in no way affected the spirit of the event. And although a number of the older generation who had for years led the walk have been sadly lost in recent times, their memory was carried by their children and grandchildren.

In fact this year’s event was hailed by many as one of the best, with perfect weather and ground conditions and the joy of coming together again as a community to celebrate one of Hatherleigh’s best loved traditions.

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