Last Saturday, a huge piece of bacon was paraded through an Essex town as an ancient ceremony took place once again. This was the Dunmow Flitch Trials.

The story goes that in 1104, the Lord of the Manor, Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed as humble folk and begged the blessing of the Prior at the local Priory a year and a day after their marriage. Impressed by their fealty, the Prior awarded them a flitch of bacon – which is a huge amount of bacon.

Lord Fitzwalter then gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted. And so ordered, the Dunmow Flitch Trials have taken place on and off for nearly 900 years, and now take place every fourth year.

(The problem that a lord could never have impersonated a serf in the 12th century due to the massive differences in language and accent shall be overlooked on the grounds of not wanting to risk a lot of bacon going to waste)

Due to take place in 2020 but delayed because of that damned thing, it was on Saturday 9th July 2022 that the 2020 Dunmow Flitch Trials finally took place. People waving tickets with 2020 printed on them filed into a large tent in the field for this ancient custom to resume once more.

Before that though, the bacon has to be paraded, so at a nearby pub, the locals gathered, the flitch of bacon was hoisted up onto shoulders, and a town crier did his crying of Oyez, Oyez, Oyez once more. Accompanied by the judge, the jury, a marching band, and the Bishop of Colchester, this very curious mix of people that have stepped straight out of a classic guide to “weird English customs” made their way to the nearby field to attend the trials.

The Judge this year was Daniel Pitt, who was in his first year as Judge, but is in normal times a barrister specialising in family law. The council for the claimants were the BBC Essex presenter, Sadie Nine and Tim Clark QC, while the council for the bacon were Ian Daniels, a barrister and Steve Bugeja, a comedian.

You may already suspect that while this is a trial, it’s not entirely serious.

And indeed, while the councils will argue their case strongly, it’s more about how much humour can be injected into the arguments.

The first of five couples to compete for the bacon arrived, and it turns out that Ian and Amanda Brown are stalwarts of the local community, having lived in the area for about 40 years. Ian originally fancied Amanda’s friend, Jackie, but Amanda won the day.

However, they didn’t win the bacon.

After the Jury had deliberated, they returned, and the verdict, to loud boos and hisses, was for the bacon, not the claimant.

The council for the claimant made an emotional appeal for a retrial, to no avail, but the jury had ruled, and thus, the bacon was forfeit.

A parade back into town to pass sentence, and had the claimants won, they would have been paraded back on high chairs. But they didn’t so they weren’t, and after the ignominy of being forced to walk, a gammon of ham was awarded to the faithless couple, followed by a bout of morris dancing.

It’s one of those utterly bonkers events that are dotted around our strange land. The sort of thing that fills many an American TV channel with unusual customs carried out by weird people in foreign countries where they don’t carry guns or salute flags, but prefer to parade lumps of bacon around town and watch men dance while waving handkerchiefs.

It’s also incredibly good fun to attend.

After a lengthy six-year gap, the Flitch Trials will resume their leap year tradition so the next trials will take place in just two years time — on 13th July 2024.

About a year before that, they will call for wedded couples to participate in the trials, if you think you can prove to a jury that in ‘twelvemonth and a day’, you have ‘not wisht themselves unmarried again’.

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Article last updated: 15 August 2022 11:30

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One comment
  1. Helen Haines, Vice-Chair, Flitch Trials Committee says:

    Brilliant description!

    However – it is not a marching band – we have our ‘Flitch Minstrels’, if you please.

    Dunmow Flitch Trials organising Committee

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