©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 27, 2019
Webpage updated: September 27, 2019




The practice of "Beating the Bounds" is a very ancient one.  In the days before the written word and maps, the only way in which landowners could record the extent of their property was by boundary markers and it was important that succeeding generations knew where those boundaries were.   Some were engraved stones but in other cases the boundary might be a hedge, a stream or a road.

In Plymouth this meant that each year the chief officers of the Borough were taken on a tour of the boundary.  This event is still maintained today by members of the Old Plymouth Society, although in this modern era of digital mapping it is of less importance.

On Friday October 8th 1886, the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr William Henry Alger (1836-1912), led the party and the account which follows appeared in "The Western Daily Mercury" the next morning.

Rarely has the time honoured ceremony of beating the bounds been gone through in a more agreeable manner than was the case yesterday [Friday October 8th 1886].  What is considered a dull and irksome duty  ..... itself into a pleasant pastime, the memory of which will long remain with those who "assisted".  Part of the pleasure of the affair was due to the glorious weather that favoured the perambulators; but much, if not more, must be put to the credit of the genial hospitality of the worthy Mayor, who not only did the customary thing in the way of entertaining the party before starting, but at the end of the arduous day's labours welcomed them to his beautiful residence at Widey Court, and brought the ceremony to a close with an informal "at home".  A rather larger company than usual met at the trysting-place known as 'The Old Man's Corner', where the Mayor's booth had been pitched.  The borough flag floated overhead, and, in celebration of the 127th anniversary of the completion of Smeaton's Eddystone Lighthouse, the municipal bunting was also hoisted on the tower.  Among those who assembled at the appointed hour, two o'clock, were the Mayor (Mr W H Alger), the Town Clerk (Mr J Walter Wilson), the Borough Chamberlain (Mr G G Davey), the Borough Coroner (Mr T C Brian), the Chief Constable (Mr Wreford), Alderman Pillman, Councillors I Watts, J B Cousins, G R Barrett, J Pethick, C Walters, E Roseveare, F W Harris, T Jinkin, W H Luke, May, Mr H Greenway (Medical Officer of Health), Mr J C Trounson (Assistant Borough Surveyor), Mr W J Radford (Borough Accountant), Mr W Adams (Clerk to the Plymouth Board of Guardians), Mr J Kinton Bond (Head-master Corporation Grammar School), Mr Price (Inspector of Works), Messrs Prigg and Chapman (Borough Surveyor's office), Messrs G Porter Rogers, F Rogers, T H Harvey, H Whitfeld, Jones (Oreston Steamboat Company), T Brook (Chairman Plymouth Chamber of Commerce), J Hele (Borough Organist), and others.  Later in the day the party were joined by Alderman Derry, Messrs F A Morrish, J Godfrey, T Pitts, junior, Robert Burnard, A Groser, George Whitley, [there appears to be a line of text missing from the report at this point].  Light refreshments were partaken of in the Mayor's booth, and at quarter-past two a move was made for the West Hoe Pier, where the company embarked on the Oreston steamboat Dispatch.  It was a bright and genial afternoon, of the poetic October type; and the enjoyment of the fine weather was strengthened by recollections of the drenching rain that prevailed last year and, if we mistake not, the year before as well.  A vote of thanks to the clerk of the weather having been passed with great unanimity, the rope was cast off, and the little steamer at once made for the point at which the ceremony of touching the bounds really begins.   This point is marked by a stone inserted in the rocks under the Prince of Wales's redoubt, at a spot known as the Eastern King.  The stone bears the inscription "J.B., 1860," having been placed there during the mayoralty of John Burnell.   The Marines' bathing place, with its neat-looking appointments, occupies a position immediately to the right (or east) of Burnell's stone.  Here, too, one obtains a   comprehensive view of the Great Western Docks which, though included within the borough boundary for poor-rate purposes, are outside the jurisdiction of the borough coroner.  The bow of the boat having been "bumped" against the rock at Eastern King, her course was altered, and she made across the Sound, passing near enough to Mr Shelley's stone at Rusty Anchor to identify it, but not approaching very near to it.   Rusty Anchor, it was pointed out, is to be the site of the new outfall sewer now being constructed by Mr Debnam, of Millbay, at the joint expense of the Corporation and the Great Western Company.  After passing Drake's Island -- which it was said was reckoned for registration purposes as being within the parish of St Andrew's -- the voyageurs had an opportunity of seeing what progress has been made with the works in connection with the new carriage road from the Hoe to Fisher's Nose (Lambhay Point).   Very general regret was expressed that the building of the torpedo depôt at that point will make the road end in a cul de sac.  As readers may know, attempts were made to induce the War Department to desist from building here, so that the new road might be carried round the corner and back to Citadel-road without interruption, thus forming a fine circular drive.  But up to the present no success has attended these efforts, and judging from the amount  of work already done at the site of the depôt, the chance of making the circular drive is postponed to a very distant date.  From Lambhay Point -- where a stone was inserted in the quay wall during Mr Derry's mayoralty in 1880 -- the boundary follows an imaginary line across the entrance to the Barbican to the site of Queen Anne's Battery, of which only a few crumbling vestiges remain.   Note was taken in passing of the prominent feature which the handsome tower of St Matthias will make in the prospect of the town from this point of view.  Proceeding up Cattewater, the boat passed within unpleasantly close hail of the Corporation muck-heap at Deadman's Bay, affectionately known among officials and others who happen to be on familiar terms with it by the name of "Spice Island".  Some profane wag, who probably heard of the name for the first time, burst into an ecstatic apostrophe of the odiferous territory by quoting Heber's 'Waft, waft ye balmy breezes!'  But the only response was a shrug of the shoulders, and a tight grip of offended olfactories.   "Spice Island", always a  variable quantity, is just now of larger dimensions than usual; and the Town Clerk is thought to be of little exercised in mind about it.  However, there is little cause for alarm. The perfumes seem to be quite harmless: in fact, if the jokists on board the Dispatch can be trusted, it is quite possible to cultivate a taste for them.  It may not be strictly true that the workmen who dig and delve there prefer dining on "Spice Island" to dining at home, because they are used to it, but they are a hale and hearty set of fellows, and their occupation does not seem to be more unhealthy than that of many other people.  Mr Derry's boundary stone, let into the quay wall at Bear's Head, was seen to be a finely polished piece of Devonshire marble.  From here the Dispatch proceeded up the Cattewater, passing on the way the gigantic steam-dredger Briton, which is being employed by the firm of Burnard, Lack and Alger to deepen the approaches to their wharfs.   Already about 75,000 tons of material have been scraped up and taken out to sea, and the work will be continued for some time longer.  The bed of the stream has been deepened many feet, but no rock has yet been reached.  The buckets have brought up several heavy mooring stones, one of them weighing as much as 13 cwt., and it says something for its strength that the machinery has stood such a strain without injury.

From Deadman's Bay the borough boundary runs up the western shore of the Laira, following the high-water mark, as far as Arnold's Point.  Here the party landed, and, bidding good-bye to the captain of the Dispatch, took the carriages that were in waiting to convey them over the land part of the day's journey.  It should be mentioned that before quitting the water's of the Laira, Mr Pethick pointed out the line to be taken by the first section of the Modbury railway, the construction of which is to be commenced shortly.  A handsome iron bridge is to be thrown across the estuary just above the existing bridge.  The work of building the bridge has been placed in the hands of Messrs Head and Wrighton, of Stockton-on-Tees.  Preparations are already being made, and it is expected that the cylinders will be down about a month hence.   It is needless to say that the beautiful view which the estuary presents at high water on a sunny day -- with Saltram House and woods on one hand, and the glistening hamlets of Laira and Crabtree on the other -- was much admired.  Mount Gould, on the left, was pointed out as the intended site of a new infectious diseases hospital for the borough.  Having seated themselves in the carriages the party were driven a little way down the embankment, where a bound stone bearing the name of A Hubbard, date 1869, is to be seen.  From here the line skirts the base of Mount Gould and runs up the Lipson Valley, following in reality what used to be the high-water mark, when in bygone days the whole of the valley as far up as Lipson Mill was covered by the tide.  Driving to the Laira Inn and back by the old coach road to the bottom of Lipson-hill, the perambulators again alighted; and, having inspected Mr Moore's bound stone, effected an entry into the premises adjoining a cottage belonging to Admiral Shortland.  A treacherous walk for several yards, along by the side of an evil-smelling ditch, brought the party to Cookworthy's bound stone near the outfall of the old Lipson sewer.  A short stay here was quite sufficient for the most enthusiastic, and the party then beat a hasty retreat into the road.  A good deal of amusement was caused by the climb over the railway embankment en route to the field at the back of Lipson Mill.  Here stands the particular boundary-stone -- another of Cookworthy's memorials -- at which kicking a couple of Grammar School boys in order to impress its position on their memories used to be performed.  There happened to be present in the company a journalist who, when a grammar school boy, once took an active, or rather a suffering, part in the ceremony he was now about to chronicle.  Mr Alger, however, honoured the custom by breach rather than by observance; and instead of inflicting stern chastisement on the lads who had come out to be operated upon gently pulled their ears and solaced them with half-a-crown apiece.  Before leaving this spot the outline of the ancient tidal creek was pointed out, and Mr Barratt remarked that in the old survey, of which he has a copy, Lipson Mill -- now locked in by the railway embankment -- is described as a tidal mill.   Moralising on the great changes that have been wrought in the course of a comparatively few years, the party resumed their journey, walking via Compton pathfield to the top of Elm-road.  Here note was taken of the removal of one of the old upright boundstones in consequence of the widening of the thoroughfare, but it was pointed out that another stone had been laid in the place under the surface of the road in order to prevent the possibility of future dispute.  The carriages were here resumed, and the next stage -- through Mutley Plain, to the station, and thence to Millbridge via Pennycomequick and Deadlake-road -- was rapidly covered.  The boundary skirts Deadlake on the north side till within 200 yards of Millbridge, when it crosses the water.   The party drove from Millbridge by Eldad, Manor-street and Phoenix-street, to Millbay-road, the last boundstone visited being that in front of the premises of the Millbay Bakery.

The perambulation over, the party drove to Widey Court, the residence of the Mayor, where a most enjoyable evening brought the day to a satisfactory close.

In the journalist tradition of the day, this article occupied just over a one page column and had only two paragraphs in the entire narrative!