Parish Boundaries

Today we look at Ordnance Survey maps and others to show us where our parish begins and ends. Before such standard sources of information were accepted, notably in the eyes of the law, villagers protected their interests by passing on local knowledge of the boundaries of their properties and, in aggregate, of their village to their children, their neighbours and to newcomers.

A time-honoured way – lost, as they say, in the mists of antiquity – was to turn out once a year in a body to “beat the bounds.” Often the local clergy accompanied by their choir-boys took the initiative, not least because the church was often the only neutral repository of records of the past. Any disagreements between landowners which surfaced during these “perambulations” might be settled on the spot if the incumbent was accepted as truly neutral (and it was cheaper than going to law). Thus, when the incumbent of Trellech and Penallt parish led a perambulation in 1832 he was following established custom and possibly learning quite a bit about his parishioners in the process.

Among the papers left to us by Major Probert (died 1997) is a hand-written record of the route taken by the group checking the locations of the boundary marks. One of its consistent features is the reliance on ephemeral land-marks such as trees, hedges, fences, moveable stones, and ownership of land. One is tempted to complain that it records the boundaries as indicated only on or at about the date of that perambulation. However, there is nothing unusual here – Bradney quotes details of a survey of the manor of Trellech in 1677 in similar terms, using trees, fences and houses identified by their occupiers. Rivers and ridges, streams and wells offered permanent points of reference but otherwise those beating the bounds had little option. Nevertheless, there are enough references in Mr Parry’s notes to invite attempts to follow in the steps of his perambulators – on a map if not on foot! (But there are no choir-boys to beat today).


Start from the five trees in a line to a crab tree in the hedge of CAE MEYRICH a little to the right of the N.E. corner of the field in which we cut a P and an M and in a stone at the foot we cut a T. Thence to a large stone in the WAIN field where is a stone marked with M and P by the side of the hedge about 15 yards from the gate. Thence in a straight line to the mouth of the lane at HAWKINS which leads towards the GRAIG in the hedge on the left hand (looking towards the Graig) it was agreed to place a stone marked with P and M. Up the lane about 50 yards in the wall which crosses the road at the end of the first field beyond Hawkin’s place we made a T in a stone in the centre – continue with the centre of the lane till we came out at the Potash lane where on that lane side we cut a T in the wall then across the lane leaning a little to the left and over the hedge in the RED WERN field – when in the fence we made another T continue the lane to the large rock on SWINNERTON’S Graig where cut a T thence along the fence to a stone marked T and about 80 yards then turn left over the rocks by another T about 10 yards then in a line to stone with a T about to side nearest Monmouth. below the clump of firs at PENTRE NWN – then into Pentre Nwn field along the hedge to the Quarry then in a line across the Quarry to the opposite hedge in which is the boundary along the top of the Duke of Beaufort’s Graig until JAMES VAUGHAN’S Garden then along his fence by MR. RICHARDS FIELD then along MRS. HILL’s fence to the Graig land where there are 2 TT one on each side of then land pass the upper side of SAMUEL RICHARDS & DAVIES barn and T in the pine (?) and on a corner stone after passing from the field belonging to PEN Y GARDEN farm – then to a stone about 20 yards from the barn where is a T level with the Ground – then along the brow of the hill over the Graig above PWLL Y GEIFR across the quarry in a line to the Old Fence which is the boundary to the troughs in Davies & Wm.GUNTER’s land and the Duke of Beaufort’s land – along the top of the Graig back to COOK’S meadow or field the fence still the boundary. to the Park wall and from then end of COOK’s meadow or field the park wall or fence is the boundary to the river Wye.”

The references to T, M & P being cut into marker stones is intriguing. In the west, Penallt lay on one side of the boundary, Mitchel Troy on the other. Mr Parry’s manuscript includes headings for lists of those present at his perambulation but unfortunately he forgot to add the names – we are left with empty spaces. One of the headings is “Mitchel Troy” from which we can guess that someone from that village was present to watch for his community’s interests.

Mr Parry’s notes appear to take us north from Five Trees in the west and eventually east to meet the rive Wye for the first and only time. It seems reasonable to assume that there was no parish boundary to the south because Penallt was in the parish of Trellech. It is interesting, however, that some of the boundary markers he found and to which he added were marked with a P and not a T and that the survey of Trellech manor in 1677 includes a list of the parishes in the manor beginning “Trellech, Penallt….” It is tempting to wonder if in fact Penallt was recognised as a parish in its own right long before the 13th century when the list of known incumbents of Trellech starts. Or perhaps these are examples of local usage being preferred to ecclesiastical legality.

[from: Penallt Revisited]