3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

Bringing home the bacon in Great Dunmow

PUBLISHED: 12:47 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:47 24 November 2015

Great Dunmow

Great Dunmow


Great Dunmow is known for its architectural charms and stunning countryside, but it also boasts one or two quite unique features. 
Petra Hornsby uncovers more of what makes Dunmow great!

Dunmow, which means meadow on the hill, was given its name some time between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Saxons. It has also been called Dunmow Magna and Much Dunmow before becoming Great Dunmow in the early Dark Ages. The town lies on the River Chelmer and today has a population of around 9,000. Like many of the other towns and villages in the district, it is popular with commuters looking to enjoy the benefits of country living and good rail links into London.

The town was once a small Roman development standing at the junction of Stane Street and other roads connecting Sudbury to London and Cambridge to Chelmsford. The town prospered during the Middle Ages, thanks to a market charter granted in 1253.

The history of Great Dunmow is portrayed in the town’s Maltings Museum, situated in the High Street in the characterful old maltings building. The interior has displays representing its social and economic history including a model of its railway station which closed to passengers in 1969. The connecting trackbed of the former railway now forms the route for The Flitch Way — one of the area’s long distance walks.

One long-standing tradition for which the town is famous for is the Flitch Trials – an event that dates back to 1104 and the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow. The then Lord of the Manor, Reginald Fitzwalter, and his wife dressed as peasants and appealed to the prior to bless their union following a year and a day of marriage. The prior, impressed by their devotion, gave them the blessing along with a flitch (half a pig) of bacon. Revealing his real identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the priory on the condition that every year a couple, demonstrating similar devotion, would also be similarly rewarded.

The Flitch Trials became recognised across the land and are referred to in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale and William Langland’s The Vision of Piers Plowman in a way that seems to require no explanation.

It wasn’t until 1445 that winners’ names were actually recorded, when Richard Wright from Norwich travelled with his wife to have their union tried and they successfully left with the bacon.

In 1832 the tradition was transferred to Great Dunmow but lapsed until 1855 and is now held as a civic event every leap year.

People come from across the county and beyond to attempt to prove their marital harmony and scoop the prize. The court is held in a marquee on Talberd’s Ley and presided over by a judge and counsel representing the hopeful claimants and the opposing counsel who speak for the suppliers of the bacon. Alongside them are a jury of six maidens and six bachelors and an usher to keep order – things can get lively!

Successful couples are carried shoulder-high in the Flitch Chair to the Market Place where they take an oath. Those who have failed to convince the court of their devotion walk behind with a consolation prize of a gammon.

Dunmow was also home to socialite and mistress to King Edward VII, Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’ Greville, Countess of Warwick. She lived in Easton Lodge, which sits on the border of Great Dunmow and once had its own railway station, used by the King to visit when he was Prince of Wales. Although the Countess went on to have notable financial troubles, she was considered to be a generous benefactor to her local community and the initials CW appear on many significant properties in the town. It is also thought that she was the inspiration behind the popular music hall song Daisy, Daisy.

Other noteworthy residents from the past include Lionel Lukin (inventor of the unsinkable lifeboat) and Sir George Howland Beaumont, the founder of The National Gallery.

A rather remarkable feature of modern Great Dunmow is that its High Street consists entirely of independently-owned shops, businesses, cafes and restaurants. Nikki Anthony of Wardrobe, a ladies’ fashion boutique, explains why the business owners are keen to maintain Great Dunmow’s distinctive flavour: ‘We feel we can offer shoppers something special that isn’t seen in other towns. With businesses being independent and owned by local people, it does have more of a community feel, which is unique to our town.’

Zoe Brady, the owner of Zoe’s Coffee Shop, is, along with Nikki, a member of the Town Team, a group of business owners which describes its principle goal as, ‘to increase footfall into the town and to keep the town developing and vibrant’.

The team comes up with ideas to bring people to the High Street and into the shops, such as a children’s’ treasure hunt and farmers markets (planned for the New Year), and also organises the Christmas Lights Switch On event, which this year takes place on November 27 at 5.30pm.

Nikki continues: ‘This year, the Michelin-starred chef, Daniel Clifford, will be switching on the new lights as well as judging a Christmas cake competition. There will be live music, a carousel, mulled wine, mince pies and plenty of amusements to add to the festive atmosphere.’

Great Dunmow certainly seems to be a good place to head to for some Christmas shopping, or indeed throughout the year, offering a mellower pace to some more frantic, larger town centres. It has the added benefit of some beautiful buildings and excellent places to take refreshments, relax and consider your purchases.

Now that sounds like an early Christmas present if ever there was one.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The history and heritage of our county’s historic homes is not only contained within their walls but it also stretches out into the land surrounding it. We’ve found 11 great walks that allow you to experience that history first hand

Read more
Thursday, September 6, 2018

Your favourite county magazine, Essex Life, has joined forces with Channels Estate near Chelmsford for another Strike it Red event — an Autumn Splendour Supper and Fashion Show on Thursday, September 20

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

If you have never been to a ploughing match, this month is a great time to put that right as the The Ongar Ploughing Match marks its 100th event. Ralph Metson explains more

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

New research by TotallyMoney suggests Essex is one of the best counties for London commuter hotspots. Based on average house price, length of commute by train and the cost of an annual train ticket these are the best commuter towns in Essex

Read more
Sunday, August 26, 2018

Essex is home to some of the most stunning vistas in the UK. From the estuary of River Thames to the North Sea coastline, the county’s scenery is a diverse patchwork of stunning sea views, ancient architecture and vibrant gardens. We pick 9 of our favourites

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Spend Halloween hunting down ghouls and ghosts in the county’s most haunted places and spaces. We pick 10 absolutely terrifying locations to visit this October.

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

No one knows Essex better than the people of Essex; we asked where the prettiest places to live were, and you let us know. So, without further ado, here are the prettiest places, suggested by you

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

From weatherboarded beach huts to famous names treading the boards at the Summer Theatre, Frinton on Sea has an elegance that makes it stand out brightly as a seaside resort, says Petra Hornsby

Read more
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Job search in your local area

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search