Beating the Boundaries

A history of the Beating of the Boundaries in Helston

The ancient ritual of Beating the Bounds is one that has been in existence since the second charter of Queen Elizabeth in 1585. The ancient borough of Helston, granted by a charter of King John in 1201, is believed to have been staked out using a stone at three corners and a toft – a tuft of grass – at the fourth. The actual boundary followed an irregular perimeter enclosing lands and houses owned by the burgesses. The boundaries of the parishes were established in a similar way and in the days before maps it was essential to regularly walk the exact boundary to guard against encroachments. This was done by taking local young boys on the route, and bumping them against trees, walls or posts, so that when they grew up they would be able to pass on their knowledge of the boundary.

Before 1934, the borough enclosed a relatively small area and only three stones now remain in position on the inner boundary. They can be found in Redruth Road, Church Hill and Prospect Place. In 1934 the boundaries were extended to include Porthleven and parts of the parishes of Sithney and Wendron to form a modern borough of Helston. In 1985 the boundaries were changed again, when Helston and Porthleven separated to become independent parishes. The boundaries of the new Helston town parish were then extended towards Trenethick, Lowertown, Sithney and Porthleven. 

In days gone by the schoolchildren were armed with sticks. A sod of turf was cut, which was then beaten with the sticks, a sprig of May was stuck into the turf and three cheers were given. Then some of the children were turned upside down to have their heads bumped on the turfed stone.

Beating of the Bounds continues in a number of places in the country. It seems to have been connected with, or to have been developed from the ancient Rogationtide processions, when it was customary for the parish priest along with choir and servers to go through the fields near the parish church singing litanies and asking God’s blessing on the crops. This accounts for the fact that beating the bounds at Helston normally takes place on the eve of Ascension Day.  

The modern Beating of the Bounds ceremony still calls for local children (and sometimes the not-so-young) to be turned upside-down and have their heads gently tapped on the boundary stones. The length of the town boundary means that roughly one third of the boundary is walked each year. 

The sections are: 

Carminowe Creek - Boundary Stone No. 1 at the Fairground, Porthleven Road and
Boundary Stone No. 18 at R.N.A.S. Culdrose.

Lowertown, Newham Old Hill, Squire’s Lane to Porthleven Hill and Penventon Farm.

Pemboa – Boundary No. 11 at Lower Junction on the Redruth Road and
Boundary Stone No. 18 at Culdrose.

Beating the Boundaries Beating the Boundaries