Mayor wades in as Yorkshire townsfolk stake claim to borders in ancient custom

Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA
Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA
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The town’s 15 miles of boundaries are unlikely to have changed since 2011, but the Mayor of Richmond was taking no chances yesterday.

In full ceremonial regalia and with a posse of some 500 locals – including halberdiers and mace bearers – in tow, he set out on the septennial Beating of the Bounds, a custom devised before there were maps to determine where the borders lay.

Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Such ceremonies were annual events in the late Middle Ages but the one in Richmond is among the few to survive, and only on every seventh year.

It takes the form of a peram­bulation around the extremities of the borough, an outing that took the whole day and culminated with the first citizen throwing a stone over the roof of an outbuilding that straddles the boundary, to denote its continued enforcement.

As Richmond’s border is delineated in part by the River Swale, the Mayor was required to get his feet wet while his town crier stood on ceremony and on dry land to proclaim the “ancient and undoubted boundary”of the manor and borough against those of the townships of Hipswell, Hudswell, Easby and Aske.

“Traditionally, the mayor used to be carried across the river,” rued the current incumbent, Jonathan Preece, “but in today’s safety-conscious environment I decided it was easier for me to walk into the middle.”

Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Mayor Jonathan Preece led the Septennial Beating of the Bounds, which takes place every seven years and dates back to the Royal Charter given to Richmond by Elizabeth I in 1576. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Describing the water as “cold”, Mr Preece nevertheless eventually swapped his outdoor trousers for shorts but kept his chain of office around his neck.

Richmond’s staging of the event dates from the Royal Charter given to the town by Elizabeth I in 1576. It took place at first on Accession Day but was moved to August to allow schoolchildren to take part.

Around 50 were on yesterday’s procession, with those at the other end of the age range bordering on their 80s. Each was given a souvenir bookmark.