Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Dunmow Flitch Trials

As the distant thump of the V Festival reaches the house (and it's very hot, so the windows are open), I'm beginning to think that this event has probably now become a sort of local tradition. And we don't really have many of those in this part of the country, except there is one local tradition which has been around for centuries - the Dunmow Flitch Trials.  I went to the last trials held a few weeks ago on 14th July.

The jury of six maidens and six bachelors take the oath

The Flitch Trials are held every four years in Great Dunmow and I guess their real purpose is to celebrate marriage.  A flitch of bacon is awarded to married couples if they can satisfy a judge and jury (of six maidens and six bachelors) that in a twelvemonth and a day they have not wisht themselves unmarried again.  The trials appear to date back to the early medieval period and have always been well known (it is referred to in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the late 1300s, by the Wife of Bath, a champion of marriage who dragged five men to the church door and is now looking around for the sixth).

First couple take the oath
Although David and I couldn't stay all day at this year's trials, we enjoyed what we saw very much.  The trials were held in a marquee; participants competed a bit against the heavy rain drumming down outside and the noise from the Stansted flight path.  The rain also impacted on anything taking place outside, including the processions.  But it didn't really detract from the event, which was all good fun, light-hearted and well performed by judge, barristers and other "court officials".  Couples have to admit a certain amount of personal information to prove they're happily married and they then get gently teased about it.  In the historical records, the names of previous successful couples date back to the 1700s, but before then, tellingly, only the husbands' names are recorded.

The next trials will be in 2016.  The next V Festival will probably be this time next year!

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