Dunmow - Encyclopedia

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DUNMOW (properly Great Dunmow), a market town in the Epping (W.) parliamentary division of Essex, England, on the river Chelmer, 40 m. N.E. by N. from London on a branch of the Great Eastern railway. Pop. (1901) 2704. The church of St Mary is Decorated and Perpendicular. The town was corporate from the 16th century until 1886. Roman remains have been discovered. Two miles E. is the village of Little Dunmow, formerly the seat of a priory, remarkable for the custom of presenting a flitch of bacon to any couple who could give proof that they had spent the first year of married life in perfect harmony, and had never at any moment wished they had tarried. In place of the monastic judicature a jury of six bachelors and six maidens appear in the 16th century. A rhyming oath, quoted by Fuller, was taken. The institution of this strange matrimonial prize - which had its parallel at Whichanoure (or Wichnor) in Staffordshire, at St Moleine in Brittany, and apparently also at Vienna - appears to date from the reign of John. The first instance of its award recorded is in 1445, and there are a few others. But there are references which suggest its previous award in Piers Plowman and Chaucer. The Chaucerian couplet conveys the idea of an award to a patient husband, without reference to the wife. A revival of the custom was effected in 1855 by Harrison Ainsworth, author of the novel The Flitch of Bacon, but the scene of the ceremony was transferred to the town hall of Great Dunmow. It has since been maintained in altered form. (For details see Chambers's Book of Days, ii. 748-751; and W. Andrews, History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon Customs, 1877.) Close to Little Dunmow is Felsted or Felstead; and Easton Lodge (with a railway station), a seat of the earl of Warwick, is in the vicinity.

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