By Ishbel Beatty
The western boundary of Hatley St George, adjoining the parish of Gamlingay, was once known in Gamlingay as the Perambulation Walk, or Processional Way. These names indicate the parish boundary where in Stuart times an annual walk (or perhaps at longer intervals) would take place around the whole boundary of the parish. The time of year was at Rogationtide, in May.
Most people will have heard about the traditional ‘beating of the bounds’ in many areas, which could also entail lightly beating the youngsters at points along the way. This was hoped to instill into them the memory of where the parish bounds lay, important at times if you wished to claim a right of settlement in that parish – which could include the right to Poor Law assistance if you fell on hard times.
It was also important to the clergy and the landowners to know where their tithes were payable. In the 17th century there was a notable dispute between John St. George and the parish of Gamlingay over who had the right to one particular portion of land on the boundary between Hatley St George and Gamlingay for this reason.
In the County Record Office in Cambridge, there is a crude map of the time indicating this area, with a little drawing of ‘Mr St. George his house’. There is also a letter of 1629 by the vicar of the time giving his memories of the past twenty years’ collection of tithes.
Associated with the eastern border of Gamlingay parish were five crosses, probably set up to indicate where the boundary took an unexpected twist, or where there were junctions with other parishes – Gransden and Hatley St George. The Gransden Cross was probably on the footpath which runs south of Fuller’s Hill, off the Gransden / Gamlingay road.
There are 19th century entries in the Gamlingay Parish Register of Baptisms beginning in 1803 that ‘the Minister, Churchwardens and principal inhabitants of the parish perambulated the bounds of the parish’ in May 1805 and June 1831, perhaps an attempt to revive the old custom. It is still legal to do so, at intervals of not more than three years.
The word perambulation comes from the Latin perambulare – to walk through or around. The earliest known use of the term for determining boundaries is 1612.
For further information, see Discovering Parish Boundaries by Angus Winchester, Shire Publications (now part of Bloomsbury Publishing), second edition (2000), 97 pp, ISBN 978-0747804703. Two reviews of the first edition – one is by Oliver Rackham – are on The Journal of Ecclesiastical History website.
Another book about the walk, Gamlingay’s Procession Waye, by (former) local historian Bernard O’Connor is available directly from him. It used to cost £6.00 – e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For a long read on Gamlingay parish, go to this British History Online page.
First published on the original Hatley website in April 2005; minor changes made on 5th July 2018.