At the risk of falling foul to the UK's proposed religious incitement laws, we’d like to draw your attention to a particularly nutty Christian ritual, to take place on the Thames today near Deptford. Beating of the Bounds is an ancient and annual tradition, whereby frenzied parishioners go round their 'hood, hitting things noisily with sticks. Although this might sound like some kind of Guinness World Record attempt to acquire the most ASBOs in one afternoon, the idea, originally at least, was to shock the devil into leaving the parish boundaries. We find it rather reassuring that his infernal majesty can be repelled by the simple expediency of waving a few twigs. If only somebody had told this to Gregory Peck, and saved us the chore of sitting through endless sequels to The Omen.
Daggers of Megiddo? My arse.
So, this afternoon, the credulous and the cranky of Deptford, led by the Bishop of Woolwich and the Vicar of Deptford, will be out on the water marking their territory with clubs and petals. As wacky as that sounds, it's all rather tame compared with the methods used by All Hallows by the Tower to beat their bounds. Each year, they invert a young choirboy over the Thames, holding onto his ankles while he thrashes away with his stick. The hapless youngster is more fortunate than his predecessors, who were themselves beaten soundly with 'willow wands' before it was decided that hitting posts and rivers was a more effective method.
While not as high-profile as the All Hallows rite, the Deptford beating has recently taken on a political relevance. Last year, participants used the opportunity to protest against redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, fearing that the 3500 homes planned for the site would overwhelm the local area. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, as the development received approval in May.