Saturday 14 July 2012 was the date of the latest Dunmow Flitch: the ancient English tradition of couples proving their mutual love for each other in a court of law and thus winning (or losing) a side of bacon. My previous post, The Dunmow Flitch: bringing home the bacon, gives the background to the Flitch trials and has images of The Dunmow Flitch’s past: from the fourteenth century (during the days of William Langland’s Piers Plowman and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales) to the nineteenth and twentieth century. Today’s post contains images of yesterday’s Flitch Trials: a very modern twenty-first century celebration of this ancient custom.
Five couples each were separately tried by a court comprising of a judge, barristers (two for The Claimants and two for The Pig/Bacon) and a jury of six maidens and six bachelors. One trial was in the morning, two in the afternoon, and a further two in the evening. My images are of the two couples on trial for their marriage during the evening’s proceedings.
In the town before the evening’s trials
After the trial, any successful claimants of the Flitch have to kneel ‘on pointed stones’ and swear the Flitch Oath. This van acted as the platform to hold the Judge, Court Chaplain and the successful Claimants so that they could kneel on ‘pointed stones’ and swear the Flitch Oath in full view of the watching town.
Shortly after 6:30pm, sturdy yeoman of the town carried the Flitch of Bacon and the empty Flitch chairs to the court-house in Talberds Ley. Successful Claimants are carried on these chairs back through the town after the trial.
Carrying the Flitch and empty chairs through the town before the trial.
The Flitch of Bacon.
The brand new Flitch Chair. The chair was hand made by a 21 year-old student of Leeds College of Art. He was a former pupil of the Helena Romanes school on Great Dunmow’s Parsonage Down.
The original Flitch chair is kept in the parish church in Little Dunmow and brought out for the Dunmow Flitch.
Members of the Court. In the front, the Court Usher and the Clerk of the Court; followed by the four barristers (including BBC Essex’s Dave Monk). At the back, the Court Chaplain, the Reverend Canon David Ainge (the current vicar of Great Dunmow’s St Mary’s church).
Reverend Canon David Ainge, the vicar of Great Dunmow, latest in a long line of distinguished vicars of Great Dunmow; followed by the Judge, Michael R Chapman.
In the court-room
The Court Usher, the Judge and the Court Chaplain before the trial.
The swearing in of the jury: 6 maidens and 6 bachelors.
The swearing in of the first of the evening’s Flitch Claimants.
The shenanigans of the barristers: two are for the Claimants and the other two are for the Pig. The Claimants have to prove that they have never ‘wished themselves unwed’ and are happily married. The barristers for the Pig have to prove that they are not happily married and the Claimants are unworthy of winning the Pig. (It’s all very light-hearted and funny – nothing too serious at all.)
The verdict from the jury for the first of the evening’s couples: they successfully fought their case!
The swearing in of the second couple.
Dave Monk vigorously defending the Pig.
Dave Monk taking extreme umbrage at comments the Judge made about his wife.
The verdict from the jury for the second of the evening’s couples: they also successfully fought their case!
The procession through the town to the location of Great Dunmow’s ancient market
Shortly before 10pm the Court moved in procession from the Court’s location in Talberds Ley, up through Stortford Road and then down into Market Street.
Great Dunmow’s Town Crier and Mayor.
Carrying the winners of the Flitch aloft.
The first couple kneeling on pointed stones whilst listening to the Flitch Oath and Sentence.
The second couple kneeling on pointed stones whilst listening to the Flitch Oath and Sentence.
The end of the day’s proceedings.
The Flitch Oath
You shall swear by the Custom of our Confession
That you never made any Nuptial Transgression
Since you were married Man and Wife
By Household Brawls or Contentious Strife
Or otherwise in Bed or at Board
Offended each other in deed or in word
Or since the Parish Clerk said Amen
Wished yourselves unmarried again
Or in a Twelvemonth and a day.
Repented not in thought any way
But continued true and in Desire
As when you joined Hands in holy Quire
If to these Conditions without all fear
Of your own accord you will freely swear
A Gammon of Bacon you shall receive
And bear it hence with love and good Leave
For this is our Custom at Dunmow well known
Though the sport be ours, the Bacon’s your own.
[This last line is normally said to great rousing cheers from the watching audience and the yeomen throwing their caps in the air.]
If you liked this post, you may also like this
– The Dunmow Flitch: bringing home the bacon
– Thomas Bowyer, weaver and martyr of Great Dunmow d.1556
This article is © Essex Voices Past 2012. Unless otherwise indicated, the images on this post are also © Essex Voices Past 2012.