Great Dunmow…Great shopping, great marriages

PUBLISHED: 11:56 05 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:56 05 September 2016




With an impressive range of independent shops, spectacular architecture and a long-held tradition celebrating matrimonial bliss, Great Dunmow has much to make it great, discovers Petra Hornsby


Great Dunmow is great for a reason. It’s unique too as every leap year, this charming market town (situated in the Uttlesford District) holds the Dunmow Flitch Trials – a long-held tradition where couples compete for a side of bacon – providing a great spectacle for all residents and visitors.

Declarations of love and faithfulness these days come in the form of poems, flowers, trinkets and even edible treats, all of which can be found in the delightful array of shops within Great Dunmow’s town centre. However, back in 1104, the then Lord of the Manor, Reginald Fitzwalter, and his wife started a custom that has continued through the centuries and which adds a completely different flavour to the idea of romantic devotion.


Disguised as peasants, the couple asked The Prior to bless their marriage of a year and one day and so impressed was he by their dedication and commitment to one another that he rewarded them with a gift of a flitch of bacon.

On revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to The Priory of Little Dunmow on the promise that other couples wishing to demonstrate their loyalty should be given the same reward if they could successfully prove their love.


The trials appeared to achieve notoriety across the country, with Chaucer acknowledging the Dunmow Flitch Trials in The Wife of Bath’s Tale. However, perhaps their appeal reached a little too far beyond the town when, in 1823, the then steward of Little Dunmow, on considering an application for the flitch from a couple from Reading, declared that the trials had become, ‘an idle custom bringing people of indifferent character into the neighbourhood’.

Little Dunmow soon washed its hands of the tradition, handing the baton to Great Dunmow.


Resurrected in good spirit in 1855, the modern format is a performance that is steeped in ceremony, theatre and good will and is something for the whole town to celebrate as it unites as a community.

A ‘judge’ presides over the ‘court’ with counsel representatives for both the hopeful couples and the flitch. The jury is made up of six bachelors and six maidens who decide which couples are indeed deserving of the bacon. Those who succeed are carried along the High Street and those who fail go home with the consolation prize of a gammon.


The Flitch Trials certainly bring welcome attention to the town with residents justifiably proud of keeping this special piece of local history alive as a reminder of a connection to the past. It is an opportunity for those visiting to witness the trials, to see just what Great Dunmow has to offer – a place that, back in the Middle Ages, was a busy market town and would later became an important staging post for passing coaches. Indeed, the former coaching inn, The Saracen’s Head, is still present and is still very much in business in the High Street.

Nikki Anthony, owner of the boutique Wardrobe and part of the Town Team, describes Great Dunmow as a shopping destination. She says: ‘We are very proud of our town centre, which is solely independent with a fantastic range of shops and businesses including florists, sports outfitters, hairdressers, haberdashers, specialist cake makers, artists and bakers.


We also have coffee shops, restaurants and a travel agency too. Like most town centres today, we have our share of charity shops and also facilities that we need such as banks, solicitors, building societies, estate agents and a Post Office.’

The Town Team, which was formed in 2014, has fought hard to keep national chain stores out of Great Dunmow. Nikki explains: ‘Our shops are already struggling to compete with online shopping and out of town shopping malls. The chains would undercut us on price, inevitably forcing people out of business and changing the character of Great Dunmow for future generations.


‘We constantly have people moving to the town and surrounding villages from the south of the county and from London. They see the High Street as an attractive feature with some useful shops, but sadly, unless the community supports the town’s businesses, they could lose them.’

Nikki understands that empty shops in struggling towns could well be converted into houses in the future and, if that becomes a trend, then many smaller towns will change dramatically in character, losing something of their history, not to mention essential facilities for those who rely on local amenities.

In an effort to promote a town they are rightly passionate about, The Town Team, supported by Uttlesford District Council, is set to launch an initiative aimed at getting people to shop more frequently in Great Dunmow and reward them for their custom.

The Shop Local, Shop Dunmow loyalty scheme invites residents of the town and those living in neighbouring communities to register either online or through a form available from Zoe’s Coffee Shop. In return, they will receive a special ‘shoppers’ coin and a free jute shopping bag courtesy of sponsor Stansted Audi.

Nikki explains the purpose of the coin. ‘Shoppers who have a coin will be eligible for various promotions and discounts in participating shops throughout the year by presenting the coin at the time of purchase,’ says Nikki. ‘All the discount days and offers will be visible via the town’s Facebook page and those who have given us an email address on registration will be notified directly.’

Nikki and her fellow business owners firmly believe that shopping in a town like theirs offers a positive experience. ‘We all try to be as competitive on price as possible, but we also offer expertise and a personal approach to our customers, something we feel is missing from internet shopping or impersonal shopping centres,’ adds Nikki. ‘We get to know our customers and, as much as we like to be busy, shopping in Great Dunmow is a calmer, more enjoyable experience. We also provide employment and maintain our community.’

The Town Team, responding to demand, is also looking to bring a farmers’ market to the town in 2017, to be held in the town’s Market Place, and hopes that this too will encourage increased footfall in the High Street.

What is certain is you will have a great day with a visit to Great Dunmow.

Find out more

On September 3, there will be a stall in the High Street where shoppers can find out more about the Shop Local scheme and register there and then. To sign up for the scheme, visit


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

Tue, 16:32

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tue, 14:17

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
Friday, October 26, 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
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chelmsford is on the rise, blossoming from its city status. One iconic landmark which has been part of the landscape for 300 years, and is also enjoying a renaissance, is Hylands House. Petra Hornsby reveals more

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip or an impromptu weekend getaway, Essex is a perfect patchwork of all the little things we love about Britain. Proudly showcasing the charm of the county, we pick 13 towns you must visit when planning a trip to Essex

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This walk from the town of Bures on the Essex and Suffolk border leads you through the Essex countryside to the little villages of Alphamstone and Lamarsh | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A popular Southend escape game venue has launched a new room inspired by the town’s seafaring past

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

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search