The Dunmow Flitch, EssexThe Essex community of Great Dunmow still keeps the custom of the Flitch Trials, though these days the mid-June event occurs every leap year rather than annually. Once the Dunmow Flitch was as much a part of English culture and tradition as Robin Hood or King Arthur – mentioned by Chaucer in The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and in Langland’s Piers Plowman. Sadly these days it is not so well known.
The custom is said by some to date back to the twelfth century, when Lady Juga Baynard founded the local Augustinian priory. Another tale has it that Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife, Lord and Lady of the Manor, began the thing a hundred years later, dressing up as commoners for some obscure reason and asking the Prior to bless their marriage a year and a day after it had taken place. The Prior spontaneously gave them a flitch of bacon because he was so moved by their devotion – and of course he would have been totally taken in by their brilliant disguises.
Whatever the origin, the Dunmow Flitch Trials are a fascinating piece of living history. Couples married for at least a year and a day who wish to win a flitch – a side of unsliced bacon – have to show a court that they have lived in harmony, without a cross word, never wishing themselves not to have been married, during the previous year and a day.
The court has counsel for both claimants and the flitch providers, putting the couples’ cases and attacking them. A judge presides, and a jury made up of six bachelors and six spinsters from the area sits to give its verdict. Winners are carried to the town’s market place in an ancient chair to receive their prize; even losers get something from the event, being presented with a piece of gammon, but there must be a certain amount of shame involved in failing the test and consequently having to walk behind the successful couple or couples borne aloft in the Flitch Chair.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to The Dunmow Flitch
From jenny kageler on 1st March 2014
my grandmothers grandparents won the dunmow flitch i don't know the date his name was ephraim jordan and his wifes name was mary anne i think her date of birth was 28th march 1864 they lived in england my mothers cousin says there is a plaque in an inn called the cricketers inn. please could you help us follow this up,my grandmother came to africa and then rhodesia zimbabwe