Nunhead is not just a place it is a state of mind, a kingdom of the self, a people's paradise imagined by Blake, a citadel on the hill from which Turner sketched St Pauls. The long and illustrious history of this sceptred realm is etched into the collective memory. Its defence is their duty, their manifest destiny. So how to react to the impertinent encroachments of the Estate Agent fraternity, shamelessly incorporating portions of the ancient borough into genteel Dulwich and cocky upstart Peckham?
Event co-founder Lewis Schaffer rallies the troops
Well, Lewis Schaffer an American born comedian and now adoptive Nunheader and Richard Guard – singer, writer and folklorist extraordinaire, came up with the answer - reviving the ancient tradition of beating the bounds, wherein the townsfolk walk the perimeter of their homestead and re-affirm its boundaries. Along the route the participants clatter sticks against lampposts and railings – as well as delivering the odd hearty, acoustically satisfying thwack to a wheelie bin. In doing so they mark out the ley lines, contours and borders of Nunhead - the suburban heartland their forebears eked out of the inhospitable South London frontier with their own horny hands.
Another patch of Nunhead turf is secured
The stewarding was relaxed
This was the second year the event has run and over 100 burghers of all ages turned out to administer another beating to the town’s perimeter. The catalyst for the event was independent London radio station Resonance FM, which brought Richard and Lewis together with Southwark councillor Renata Hamvas. Renata mentioned that the Community Council Fund had some spare cash in the budget which would be lost it went unspent before the end of the financial year. She challenged Lewis and Richard to come up with a project and a few pints of ale later the idea for the project was born. Richard was perhaps an ideal candidate for the challenge. He modestly describes himself as an “amateur historian” but is the author of the book Lost London and has an in-depth knowledge of the capital’s folk history and traditions. The book itself is an essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the city’s vanished built heritage.
Outside the former house of Dr Harold Moody
Taking in the Dulwich Ukelele sound
The circuit began and ended at the Nuns Head pub - who generously handed out free beer tokens to participants. The event is an inspired invention/re-invention of tradition and is carried off with energy, verve and humour. The stewards wear hi-viz “official whacker” jackets, the procession snakes its way around the circuit singing out renditions of the day's anthem (Nunhead Forever) and the tour includes a stop at the Waverley arms, where a fabled Mexican Stand-off is remembered in a moving tribute of vocals and ukulele. On the more earnest side, there was also a stop to honour the anti-racist campaigner Dr Harold Moody – who lived in Queens Road. He founded the League of Coloured peoples and is included in the list of 100 Great Black Britons
After two hours of walking (and enduring a proper soaking when the heavens opened around Linden Grove), the guardians of this hallowed patch of South East London could rest easy in the knowledge that their ancestral territory had been marked out. The Anschluss of Queens Road was a bloodless triumph, the great, unending eastern perimeter of Ivydale Road was secured without even token resistance and by 3.30 pm the strategically critical Nunhead Heights had been established as a buffer against any expansionist ambitions harboured by southerly neighbour Camberwell.
The celery has landed!
Commemorating the Mexican stand-off at The Waverley Arms
After giving the bounds a good beating, festivities at the Nun's Head began..
See you at Beating of the Bounds 2015!