William Andrews.

History of the Dunmow flitch of bacon custom online

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iimmofo Jflitrfj of acott Custom,






Historical Notices of Ceremonies similar to that of Dunmow.






This little History of a good

Which he revived, is dedicated by


W. A.


P K E F A C E .

WE have written this little book because we are greatly interested
in the good old Custom of Dunmow. The usage being curious,
and so well calculated to promote domestic felicity, we deem it
desirable to produce in a popular form a work on the subject.
Grose says " Amongst the jocular tenures of England, none have
been more talked about than the Bacon of Dunmow," yet, strange
to relate, to the present time no history in a separate form has
appeared, hence our wish to furnish one. We agree with the poet
when he sings :

It were well if " our Custom " BO widely was spread,
Tht evety fond couple resolv'd to be wed ;
Would deteimine to p>ease, to charm, and bewitch,
That in any year they might each claim the Flitch.

Shoull this be the case a glad world would be ours,
The thorns and the biiars would bloom into flowers;
And all might rejoice, the poor and the rich,
If all would deserve and lay claim to the Flitch.

We have done our best to render our work attractive not only to
the antiquary, but to the general reader. In our labour of love
we have received much kind assistance, and amongst those we
must thank for favours in furnishing poetical contributions and
historical information, W. Harrison Ainsworth, Esq., William
Berry, Esq., Le Chevalier de Chatelain, 8. F. Longstaffe, Esq.,
F.R.H.S., F. Ross, Esq., F.R.H.S., our very dear friends Mr. and
Mrs. G. M. Tweddell, of Stokesley. Mr. John William Savill, of
Dunmow, at considerable trouble, has enriched us with valuable
notes that have been of the greatest service in compiling this
work. It is only right to state the promoters of the Dunmow
Custom have in Mr. Savill a most energetic secretary and manager.

He is a gentleman of literary ability and has a taste for archaeology.
Several newspapers of the county have in him a good representa-
tive. He is a contributor to a number of our magazines, where
his articles are always instructive and interesting, and receive a
good share of attention, being free from political and religious
bias, though at times keen and sarcastic. In 1863 he produced
his " History of Dunmow," which contains much valuable
information conveyed in a clear and pleasing manner. It was
favourably noticed by the critical press, and merited the recep-
tion it obtained from the general public. Topographers would do
well to take as a model the arrangement of this work. The large
edition was rapidly exhausted and the work is now unattainable.
" The Dunmow Almanac " was year by year brought out by
Mr. Savill with great taste, for a period of seven years. He also
published " How to make Home Happy " a work containing
golden rules which, if followed, would result in rendering the
family circle a nearer type to the heavenly one than it often is.
" The Family Doctor," an elaborate book of Hygeine,
followed, and some thousands are in circulation. Copies of Mr.
Savill's productions are in the British Musuern, and writing of
them the late J. Winter Jones, Esq., the librarian to the Museum,
said, " They have a peculiar interest, and I am anxious to preserve
them for the use of the National Library." Mr. Savill has also
written articles for several Encyclopaedias and Guide Books, notably
the "Globe Encyclopaedia," and the "Great Eastern Railway
Panoramic Guide."

He is also a zealous member of the Ancient Order of
Foresters and Secretary of the local Court, which has given sub-
stantial proof of its appreciation of his labours by a handsome

Had it not been for the energetic exertions and persistent
labours of Mr. J. W. Savill, against much opposition, the
Custom of Dunmow would have been a thing of the past. He
merits the esteem of all who delight in popular antiquities for
maintaining one of the most historically interesting of the Customs
of Merrie England. We hope he will live long and his days be
passed pleasantly, and have leisure to attend to the Dunmow
Custom, which he contends is a quaint and picturesque one, link-
ing us with the misty ages of the past.

William Winters, Esq., F.R.H.S., who has contributed so
much to the literature of Essex, has kindly favoured us with
communications. It will also be observed we have extracted
valuable information from Coller's " People's History of Essex,"
Wright's " History of Essex," and numerous other works. From
the two well-conducted county papers, the Chelmsford Chronicle,
and the Essex Weekly Neivs, we obtained important matter^
We have to thank Eobert Chambers, Esq., of the firm of
Messrs. W. & R. Chambers, for presenting us with illustrations,
and William Tegg, Esq., F.R.H.S., for similar act of kindness.

We must not omit to state "The Dunmow Flitch of Bacon "
formed the subject of one of our contributions to " The Old
Stories Re-told," in. the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, and to the
editor, W. E. Adams, Esq., we are under considerable obligations
for allowing us to reproduce our paper, with additions, in book

To our numerous subscribers we tender our grateful thanks,
and hope our efforts to please may not have failed.


10, Colonial-si reel, Hull, July Zrd, 1877.




IN the days of yore was established at the Priory of Dunmow, Essex, the
custom of presenting a flitch of Bacon to any married couple who could
swear that neither of them in .1 twelvemonth and a day from their
marriage had ever repented of his or her union. As to the time this
custom originated we must go as far back as the middle ages, and to the
period when men were making crusades and the English Commons had
not a voice in the State. At that time religious houses abounded in this
country. The one connected with our notice (that of the Priory of
Dunmow) was founded in 1104 by the Lady Juga, sister of Ralph
Baynard, who held the manor at the time of the Domesday Survey.
The monastic buildings are now entirely razed to the ground. A little
of the Priory Church remains, which formed the east end of the choir,
and the present parish church of Little Dunmow. Here may be
seen several monuments of great interest and in a good state of preser-
vation : among others is that of Lady Juga, the foundress, and also a
sculptured figure in alabaster of the "fair Matilda,'' daughter of the
second Walter Fitzwalter, renowned in legendary story as the wife of
Robin Hood, and the object of the illicit passion of King John, who,
it is stated, caused her to be poisoned for rejecting his addresses.

The learned antiquary, Sir William Dugdale (who was born in 1605
and died in 108G), in his "Monasticon," tells the story of the "fair
Matilda/' and, in allusion to the flitch of bacon, states : u Robert
Fitzwalter, who lived long beloved by King Henry, the son of King
John (as also of all the realm), betook himself in his latter days to prayer
and deeds of charity, and great and bountiful alms to the poor, kept great
hospitality, and re-edified the decayed Priory of Dunmow, which Juga,


a most devout and religious woman, had builded ; in which Priory arose
a custom, began and instituted either by him or some of his ancestors,
which is verified by the common saying or proverb, ' That he which
repents him not of his marriage, either sleeping or waking, in a year and
a day, may lawfully go to Dunmow and fetch a gammon of bacon.' It
is certain that such a custom there was, and that the bacon was delivered
with such solemnity and triumph as they of the Priory and town could
make continuing till the dissolution of that house. The party or pilgrim
took the Oath before the Prior of the Convent, and the Oath was admin-
istered with long process and much solemn singing and chanting."

" The Vision of Piers Plowman," a religious allegorical satire, attri-
buted to Robert Langlande, and written about 1362, contains a reference
to the Dunmow flitch. In the following lines (which are slightly
modernised to render them intelligible) the satirist adverts to the hasty
and ill-assorted marriages that followed the great pestilence, the "black

" Many a couple since the Pestilence
Have plighted them together;
The fruit that they bring forth
Is foul words,

In jealousy without happiness.
And quarrelling in bed ;
They have no children hut strife.
And slapping between them :
And though they go to Dunmow
(Unless the Devil help !)
To follow after the Flitch,
They never obtain it ;
And unless they both are perjured,
They Irw tho Bacon.''

In the " Prologue of the Wife of Bath's Tale," by Chaucer, the merry
wife relates how she treated her husbands, and shows they had little
chance of obtaining the prize of matrimonial felicity. She observes :

"The bacoun was nought fct for [t]hem, I trowo.
That som men feeche in Essex at Dunmowe."

About the year 144o appeared a theological poem, being a sort of para-
phrase in verse of the Ten Commandments, and of which some extracts
appear in " Reliquiae Antiquse." The author, commenting on the Seventh
Commandment, bewails the corruption of the period that he could

find no man now that will inquire

The perfect ways unto Dunmow,

For they repent them within a year.

And roarry within a week. I trow."


Allusions to the custom have been found by Mr. Thomas Wright, M.A.,
F.S.A., in MSS. of the latter part of the sixteenth century at Oxford and
Cambridge. Writing in 1659, Howell says :

Oo not fetch your wife from Diiumow
For so you may brinx home two sides of a sow."

Henry Bates, the son of a clergyman near Chelmsford, was the author of
" The Flitch of Bacon," a ballad opera, acted at the Bayniarket Theatre,
1778, and printed in 1771'. We make a few selections from the piece :

AIK xm

Ye good luen jind wive?,
Who have lov'il all your lives.

And whose vows have ai no time been shukcD,
Xow conic and draw near.
With your consciences' clear.

And demand a large Hitch of Bacon.

CHOiius Ye good men and wives, ice.

Since a year and a day
Have in love roll'd away.

And tin oath of that Jove ha.^ been taken.
On the sharp pointed stones.
With your bare marrow bones.

You have won our fam'd Priory Bacon.

CHOHVS Yc good men and wives, &c."

MIE "Tho 1 fortune cloud hope's friendly ray

That beams our guardian light,
Our constancy shall cheer the day,

Our love the longest night.
HE By thec beloved !
SHE While blessed with thec

BOTH Stern fate may frown in vain,
Content and sweet simplicity
Will take us in their train."

"Ladies would you taste Love's Bacou

But one way you'll ever find :
Let the solemn vow you've taken
With the body tie the mind.

' Murk but thi.s and we'll ensure ye

To be ever blest and wise ;
'Tis the charm that will secure ye
Dunmow's matrimonial prize.

And yc men, when you are joking,
Scorn to trap over sex by art ;
Nought to woman's so provoking
As a hand without a heart."



" Odds bobs she's wondrous pretty !
Her locks are almost jetty !
She's a finer wench than Betty.
And see her eyes are blue.

' Her snow-white bosom's heaving !
3Iy appetite is craving !
She hits my taste to a shaving !

Sweet damsel, how do you do ':"

Having lingered with the poets of the olden time, let us turn to
prose. According to Morant, the historian of Essex, " the prior and
canons were obliged to deliver the bacon to them that took the oath, by
virtue (as many believe) of a founder or benefactors' deed or will, by
which they held lands, rather than by their own singular frolic and
wantonness, or more probably it was imposed by the Crown, either in
Saxon or Norman times, and was a burthen upon the estate.'' It is
stated that after the Pilgrims, as the claimants were termed, had taken
the oath, they were taken through the town in a chair, on men's shoulders,
with all the friars, brethren, and townsfolk, young and old, male and
female, after them, with shouts and acclamations, and the bacon was
borne before them on poles.

From the Chartulary of the Priory, which is deposited in the British
Museum, it appears that only three couple obtained the bacon previous to
the suppression of the religious houses. These were respectively on the
27th April, 1445, in the year 1468, and on the 8th of September, 1510.
The following are taken from the original entries now in the British
Museum :

"MEMORANDUM. That one- Richard Baubourgc, uear the city of Norwich,
in the county of Norfolk, yeoman, came and required the bacon of Diinmow on the 27tli
day of April, in the 23rd year of the reign of King Heijiy VI.. and according to the fonn
of the charter, was sworn before John Cannon. Prior of this place and the convent, and
many other neighbours, and there was delivered to him. the said Richard, one flitch of

''MEMORANDUM. That one Stephen Samuel, ui Lit lie Er.siou. in the county of 1
husbandman, came to the Priory of Dunmow, n our Lady day in Lent, in the seventh
year of King Edward IV., and required a gammon of bacon, and was sworn be-fore Roger
Bulcett. then prior, and the convent of this place, as also before a multitude of other neigh-
bours, and there was delivered to him a gammon of bacon."

'MEMORAKDUM. That in the year of <>ur Tin i::;.s J.o l-'ulli r.of Cgs.'c.~lmll.
in the county of Essex, came to the Priory of IHmmow, and on the Mh September, being
Sunday, in the second year of Kin? Henry VIII.. he was, according to the form of the
Charter, sworn before John Tils, the Prior of the house and convent, as also before a
multitude of neighbours, and there was delivered to him. the said Thomas, a gammon of

Iii neither of the foregoing record?, says D. W. Coller, iu ' The
People's Bistory of Essex,' 1 will be observed any mention of the lady.
She does not seem to have been sworn. From all that appears to the
contrary, she was left at liberty to work her whims and indulge her tem-
per ; and the bacon was a reward for the patience of enduring husbands.
It appears from the language of one historian and he has not been gain-
said that the wife was not present. After describing the administration
of the oath, he says "Then the pilgrim was taken on men's shoulders,
and carried first about the Priory Churchyard and after that through the
town with all the friars, brethren and townsfolk, with shouts and accla-
mations, with his bacon borne before him, and sent home in the same
manner.'' In modern times, however, the wife has been subjected to the
ordeal, to increase the difficulty of obtaining the prize, and thus to save
the bacon of the Lord of the Manor.

Although we have only particulars of three presentations prior to
the suppression of religious houses, we are disposed to believe more
claims were entertained and the register of them is lost. The frequent
allusions to the subject by our old poets support our supposition. Let us
hope the claimants were numerous and successful, and that many happy
lives were made happier by the rewards.

The Priory of Dunmow was, of course, amongst the religious
establishments suppressed by Henry the Eighth. Although the old
religion of the place was gone, the bacon was saved. We have to state
to the honour of the secular proprietors, they either held it as a solemn
engagement which they inherited with the land, or they appreciated the
old Custom and desired to maintain it. Particulars of the next presenta-
tion we gather from Moraut, who obtained them from the rolls of the

court :

At a Conn IJiiroii of Sir Thomas Mu\. Km.. holden the 7ttt of Jiute, 1701, before

Thomas Wheeler, irem., ,-ieward, the homage bein:r live fair ladies, spin-tors : namely.
Elizabeth lieaiiniout. Henrietta fieatimont.Anfial'ella Beaumont. Jane Beauniont.hnd Mary
Wheeler. They found that John IteyroUK * Ilailield I' gent. [Essex], and Anil
his wife : and William Parsley, of Much Kn>i<>u [E.-#o.\]. butcher, and Jane, his wife, bv
inoaiiB of their quiet and peaceable, tender and loving cohithilution JIT the space of three
\ear- last ]i; t st. and upwards, were fit and qualified persons t-i be admitted by the court
to receive the ancient and accustomed o;uh. whereby to entitle themselves to have the
Bacon of Dunmow delivered unto them according to Custom of the. Manor. Accordingly,
having taken the oath, kneeling on the two great stones near the church door, the Bacon
was delivered to each couple.

Mr. John Keynolds was the Steward to Sir Charles Harrington.


The next claim was granted iu the year of grace 1751, and the
official account is as follows :

The Manor \ The Special Court Baron of Mary Hallett, Widow, Lady of the said

of / Manor, there held for the said Manor, on Thursday, the twentieth day

Dunmow > of June, in the live and twentieth year of the reign of our Soverign

late the Priory I Lord George the Second, by the grace of God, of Great Britain. France,

in Essex. " ) and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and in the year of our Lord,

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty One, before George Corny ns, Esquire. Steward of

i lie said Manor.


William Towusend, Gent. ~\ /'Daniel Heckford, Geni.

Marv Cater, Spinster. / _ \ Catherine Brett, Spinster.

John Strutt, the yor., Gent. ( 5 /Robert Mapletoft. Gent.
.Martha Wickford, Spinster. ' ^ 'Eliza Haslefoot. Spinster.

James Raymond, the yor., Gent. V & /Itichard Birch, Gent.
Elizabeth Smith, Spinster. ) (.Sarah Mapletoft, Spinster.

He it remembered, that at thi* Court, it is found and presented by the homage af.ort.-aid,
that Thomas Shakeshaft. of W"eathertield, in the County of Essex, weaver, and Ann, hi-
wife, have been married for the space of seven years last j;a?t and upwards. Anil it i-
likewise found, presented, and adjudged by the homage aforesaid, that tlie said Thomas
Shakeshaft. and Ann. his wife, by mean- of their quiet, peaceable, tender, and loving
cohabitation, for the space of time aforesaid, as appears to the said homage, are lir and
qualified persons to be admitted by the Court to receive the ancient and accustomed Oath.
whereby to entitle themselves t< nave the Bacon of Duninow delivered unto them accord-
ing to the custom of this manor. Whereupon at thi- Court, in full and open Court, came
the said Thomas Shakeshaft and Ann. his wife, in their own proper persons, and humbly
prayed they might be admitted to take the Oath aforesaid. Whereupon the said Steward.
with the Jury, Suitors, and other Officers of the Court, proceeded with the usual solemnity
to the ancient and accustomed place for the administration of the Oath, and receiving the
bacon aforesaid (that is to say), to the two Great Stones lying near the Church door,
within the said manor, where the said Thomas Shakeshaft. and Ann, his wife, kneeling
down on the said two Stones, the said Steward did administer unto them the accustomed
oath, in the words or to the effect following, (that is to say) :
You shall swear by custom of confession.
That you ne'er made nuptial transgression :
:\or -ince you were married man and wife.
By household brawls or contentious stritv.
Or otherwise at bed or at board.
Offended each other in deed or word ;
Or in a twelvemonth and a day,
Repented not in thought any way ;
Or since the parish clerk said ' Ainen.' 1
Wished yourselves unmarried again.
But continued true, and in desira,
As when you joined hands in holy quire,

And immediately thereupon the said Thomas Shakeshaft, and Ann. hi.- wife, claiming the
said bacon, the Court pronounced the sentence for the same in these words, or to the
effect, following to wit :

Since to these condition.- without any iVar.
Of your own accord you do freely swear ;
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it away with love and good leave :
For this is. the custom of Duninow well known,
T'ho' the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own.

And accordingly a gammon of bacon was delivered to the said Thomas Shake.-hait, and
Ann, his wife, with the usual solemnity.

An account of the presentation will be found in the Gentleman's
Magazine and the old London Magazine for the year 1751, from which it


appears that the successful candidates realised a large sum of money by
selling slices of the bacon to those who witnessed the ceremony. It is
estimated that some five thousand persons were present. David Ogborne,
a local artist of the period, sketched the scene, and painted it. The
picture is in the possession of Lieut.-Colonel William James Lucas, of
Witham. The production is worthy of Hogarth. We are enabled to
include an engraving of it from Chambers's " Book of Days." William
Hone, in his " E very-Day Book/' reproduces a print of great rarity, "sold
by John Bowles, Map & Printseller, in Cornhill," entitled " The Manner
of Claiming the Gammon of Bacon, &c., by Thos. Shakeshaft and Ann,
his wife." William Tegg, Esq., F.R.B.S., a gentleman who has de-
voted considerable attention to the Duninow custom, in his interesting
volume, the " Knot Tied," kindly places at our disposal the illustration
from Hone's book.

The antique chair in which the successful claimants were formerly
carried is still preserved in the chancel of Little Dunmow church. Its
dimensions are such as to bring the loving pair who may occupy it, in a
rather close juxtaposition, It is undoubtedly of great antiquity, probably
the official chair of the Prior, or that of the Lord of the Manor, in
which he held his usual courts and received the suit and service of his
tenants. It in no way differs from the chief chairs of ancient halls. We
furnish an engraving of this interesting relic.

It is stated in a newspaper of the year 1772, that on the 12th June
that year, John and Susan Gilder, of Terling, in Essex, made their
public entry into Dunmow, escorted by a great concourse of people, and
demanded the gammon of bacon, according to notice previously given,
declaring themselves ready to take the usual oath : but to the great
disappointment of the happy couple and their numerous attendants, the
Priory gates were found fast nailed, and all admittance refused, in
pursuance of the express orders of the Lord of the Manor.

For many years the ancient custom was numbered with things
belonging to the past. Coming to more recent times, we find it stated
by Mr. John Timbs, that "It is reported in the neighbourhood that when


our excellent Queen had been married a year and a day, the then Lord
of the Manor privately offered the Flitch of Bacon to her Majesty, who
declined the compliment ; but be it true or not, the same generosity was
not extended to the less elevated claimants."

The next claim was made in the year 1851, particulars respecting it
we gather from an account by Mr. Pavey ; he tells us " Mr. and Mrs.
Hurrell, owners and occupiers of a farm at Felsted, Essex, adjoining
Little Dunmow, made claim to the Lord of the Manor of Dunmow
Priory for the prize, but the application was not granted, the custom
having been so long dormant.

When the refusal of the Lord of the Manor to comply with the
ancient Custom became known to the inhabitants of Dunmow and the
neighbourhood, an intimation was given to Mr. and Mrs. Hurrell that if
they drove over to Easton Park, near Dunmow, on a day appointed for a
Public Fete (the 10th July), they would receive there as a prize a Gam-
mon of Bacon on taking the customary oath, and proving their title to
the same. This notification being given to Mr. and Mrs. Hurrell, har-
mony was at once restored to the good folks of Dunmow, some of whom
were afraid the Custom would be extinguished. A capital Brass Band
was engaged, who mustered opposite the Town Hall, and when the happy
couple arrived at the Market Cross, at Dunmow, they were received with
joyful strains, as well as the acclamations of a large assemblage.

At three o'clock the neighbours And friends crowded to the Market
Cross, at Dunmow, to accompany Mr- and Mrs. Hurrell to the Park,
proving that the joyous couple possessed the hearty sympathy of all who

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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsHistory of the Dunmow flitch of bacon custom → online text (page 1 of 6)