Morpeth, 1931: The Riding Of The Boundaries

The Riding of the Boundaries is a historic tradition set in the Northumberland town of Morpeth. Back in 1931, British Pathé were there to record the event, filmed in sound for the very first time.

In the days before maps and the Land Registry, Riding the Boundaries in England was a practical way to remind everyone where the boundaries of land ownership were set. It was also an opportunity to check the condition of boundary ditches. Over time, the tradition became increasingly rare.

The Riding Of The Boundaries in 1931

British Pathé visited Morpeth in 1931 to record the sights and sounds of the ancient Riding of the Boundaries tradition.

The ceremonies begin with a man on horseback addressing the small crowd of spectators. He’s explaining the ancient origins of ‘Beating the Bounds’. Unfortunately, it’s short and difficult to hear.

In the background, you can see people wandering about. These include a workman pushing a loaded wooden wheelbarrow, an old fashioned pram, and several bicycles. Two police officers also stand in the crowd. 

Next comes the procession, led by a Scottish marching band. Note the presence of Scottish bagpipes, rather than the Northumbrian smallpipes used for leading the procession for the Alnwick Shrovetide Football Match.

There are several dozen horses, all ridden by men.

Finally, we see men, women and children lining the streets, as they eagerly watch this annual event.

The full title of this film reel is “Morpeth, Northumberland. ‘Riding the Boundaries’ – whose origin is lost in antiquity, filmed in sound for first time.” 

Where Can You See A Similar Tradition?

Berwick-upon-Tweed is another Northumberland town, located close to the Scottish border. Each summer it hosts Riding of the Bounds, a similar event to Morpeth’s Riding of the Boundaries.

The tradition has ancient roots. Berwick’s 409th Riding of the Bounds, for instance, took place on 5th May 2018. Riders enjoyed a long day, because events start at 9.15am and end around 3pm, followed by a lengthy meal.

It’s many years since Berwick saw its 15 mile boundaries ridden by the town’s garrison. Instead, the procession is open to anyone who wishes to take part.

Other elements of the tradition are still in place. They include the decorating of the horses with ribbons and a meal afterwards for participants. There’s also a race at Canty’s Bridge, which started to commemorate the crossing of the Border by Margaret Tudor on her way to be married to James IV of Scotland in 1502.

Back to Northumberland page

Back to Local History Videos home page