Nunhead beats the bounds, July 2014

If you are a local then you will know that the folk around here are keen on reviving the old traditions.  Some of the traditions might seem a bit odd to you, but to us it’s just another day in South London, walking the boundaries of the parish.

Last year I joined the Solstice Parade in Telegraph Hill which depicted the ancient wedding of the Garlick Man and the Green Woman of New Cross. Last weekend, just down the road (and nobody cast me out for coming from Brockley) I joined in the beating of the bounds in Nunhead.

Beating the bounds, if you didn’t know (I didn’t), is all about the traditional perambulation of an area to mark out its boundaries. Usually in a clerical or ecclesiastical way. It’s not something that you see done every day of the week nowadays but if you care to google it, there are various parishes which still do this now.  For a great account of the ritual, you should read the Gentle Author’s fascinating post here, which gives details and lovely pictures of walking the boundaries of the Portsoken ward in the City of London.  You will see smarter dress than ours, but in effect we were observing the very same custom.

Last year, Lewis Schaffer, Nunhead’s very own American stand-up comedian and Nunhead Radio presenter, revived the tradition in Nunhead and organised the first Nunhead Beats the Bounds with the Relatives and other friends and community members.  An actual song was composed (‘Nunhead Forever’) and an actual beer was brewed (‘Nunhead Whacker’). This year, he obviously got some funds for advertising as there were signs up in prominent corners in the area in advance. On the day a pretty good crowd gathered outside the Old Nun’s Head on Nunhead Green ready to beat the bounds with sticks and ready to hold up decorated letters on sticks which spelt out ‘Nunhead Beats the Bounds’ (when everyone got in order, that is).

We were joined by children, dogs, and most importantly (for the tradition) the Vicar and a member of the Salvation Army.  We beat the boundaries of Nunhead by walking down to Peckham, and circling back round Nunhead to the Old Nun’s Head again.

The heavens opened and we got drenched, but not before singing stops (and shaking of the celery – no, don’t ask me either) at some symbolic points: by the blue plaque of Dr Harold Moody, equality campaigner (check out the blurry photo of the bus going past advertising freedom to stand up for equality); and by the Waverley Arms on Ivydale Road, which is being refurbished by new landlord Jonathan Fisher-Hindle.  Lewis even had a quick live interview with Jonathan who under duress promised some very keen prices when the pub properly re-opens!

You can take a look at Nunhead’s bounds by looking at the pictures.  Quite a few of the pictures were taken before we even set off, but you have to admit it’s fun to see the letters spelling out gobbledygook.  You can also see a few residents having a gawk at us, but honestly we weren’t doing anything weirder than they were.


You might think that the bounds of our area are not so beautiful. That’s as maybe, you might even be right. But we are still proud of them. And what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon in July than by singing with one’s neighbours and community, whacking the boundaries of our area as we take a proud walk around it and then retiring to the pub for our cup of Nunhead Whacker.  Soaked to the skin we definitely deserved it.

Next time I have no doubt that this ritual will be even bigger and noisier.  With thanks to all the organisers and fellow walkers – all together now – ‘Nunhead Nunhead Nunhead forever!’

10 thoughts on “Nunhead beats the bounds, July 2014

  1. Until your post I’d never heard of Nunhead or beating the bounds so I have learnt two new things today – thank you :-). I love old traditions and this looks like a lot of fun. Bet you can’t wait for next year?

  2. Sounds good. I’m guessing Nunhead’s boundaries are not overly long? Our parish boundaries are mainly determined by burns and would be about 24 miles around!

    1. Determined by burns? You’ll have to explain that one to me. I don’t know, we walked for 2 hours with a few stops to sing rousing rounds of Nunhead forever! So that’s how long the boundaries are!

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