Later this month will see the Triennial Battle outside the Tower of London between the Beefeaters and the parish of the neighbouring church of All Hallows.
On the evening of Thursday 26th May, the Beefeaters will parade around the outside of the Tower of London and clergy from the tower carrying sticks will beat the Tower’s boundary markers that mark its ancient liberties boundary.
This is a version of the Beating the Bounds, an ancient custom still carried out by some churches to parade around their parish boundary to remind people in a time before maps where the boundary exists. And sometimes, the parishes don’t agree, leading to conflict. In 1698, the disagreement about the boundaries between the Tower and the neighbouring parish of All Hallows turned violent and riotous. Now, every third year, the people of the Tower and those of the parish of All Hallows church gather to commemorate that riot and pray that it does not happen again.
The event takes place on Ascension Day every third year and having skillfully leapfrogged the pandemic, it takes place once more in 2022 – on Thursday 26th May 2022.
On the evening, at about 6pm, the Beefeaters entourage will leave the Tower and start their procession around the outside, beating the markers into submission, before arriving back at the main parade space for 7pm. Here, they will be joined by the parish of All Hallows, where fraternal greetings are exchanged and promises not to fight again. Then they join together to complete beating the bounds around the Tower.
It’s all rather fun to watch and suitably weird in that bonkers sort of thing we Brits are so good at.
The parish of All Hallows also beats its own bounds earlier in the afternoon, starting at 4:15pm to progress around the parish boundary, including whacking the middle of the river, before returning to the church for Festal Evensong at 6pm. They then march out to the Tower for the confrontation at about 6:45pm.