Town of Great Dunmow

History

 The site of Dunmow has been occupied since the Iron Age. Numerous vestiges of the roman period were discovered there. During the Middle Age it was a trade and craft center, as well as a market place. Many houses on High Street recall this period.

 

Taking advantage of a chart providing some independance, Dunmow became more and more important during the 16th and 17th centuries. Breweries, leather and textile workshops were set-up. The shopping centre with pretty shops and, of course, pubs with their nice hand painted signs, stretches along the High Street, whereas the outskirts  gather residential areas and light industries. The main town is Great Dunmow, but there also exists the village of Little Dunmow in the neighbourhood.

 Also to be seen : The local museum, opened in 2001, displaying major aspects of the Town's history and economy. It is located in an old brewery "Great Dunmow Maltings", Which was fully refurbished for this purpose. A large pond (Doctor's Pond) nicely adorns the Town Centre. It is so called because it was part of a doctor's residence. Unsinkable liveboat tests were carried-out on it.

Heritage

St Mary's Parish Church

The Parish church, dedicated to Mary the Virgin,  was erected around 1300 on the site of an old Saxon church. Around the church there is a peaceful grave yard.

The Old Town Hall

It was was built in 1578. The ground floor is now a shop, but the County Court for Dunmow District is held monthly, in the large upper room, which is also used for public meetings.

 

Other old buildings

 

Some houses around Market Square are typical of the English architecture in the 16th and 17th centuries, especially the old pubs "The Star", "The Saracen's Head" and "The Lock-Up" (Was a prison till 1843 where it became a soup kitchen. Now a cobbler workshop). "Clock House", a private residence built in 1586 was the home of martyr St Anne Line. It gets its name from the curious clock which has only one needle - identical reproduction of the one on the Dover castle.

 

 The malt athic of the brewery

The Flitch Trials

 This is an ancient tradition, which dates back to the 12th century, where married couples have to prove to a jury they have lived harmoniously for a year and a day. The winning couple is awarded the famous Dunmow Flitch, an old English term for half a pig.

The exact origins of the strange custom have been clouded by the mists of time and reports conflict about how it came about. It is said that in 1104 the Lord of the Manor of Little Dunmow, Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and went to beg the blessing of the Prior a year after their marriage.
The Prior, was supposedly so impressed by their devotion he gave them a flitch of bacon. The Lord then revealed his identity and gave his lands to the Priory on the condition a flitch should be given to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.


From then on the custom is believed to have gained noteriety. However, it is not until 1445 that the winners of the flitch were officially recorded.


Unfortunately, after the monastries were destroyed by Henry VIII, the custom seems to have lasped. It was briefly revived in the 18th century but died away again after an incident in 1751. It is recorded that the then Lord of the Manor lost interest when an opportunist couple, cut up their prize flitch and sold it to the crowds.


After an interlude, the ceremony was firmly re-established in 1855 and moved to the market town of Great Dunmow where it was held annually until the war years, when it switched to four yearly.

 

The modern Trial take the form of a court presided over by a Judge, with Counsel representing the claimants, and opposing Counsel representing the donors of the Flitch of Bacon, a Jury of six maidens and six bachelors, a Clerk of the Court to record the proceedings and Usher to maintain order.

The court is held in a marquee erected on Talberds Ley especially for the occasion and couples (claimants) married for at least a year and a day come from far and wide to try and claim the Flitch.  All couples could be successful in their claim, which is vigorously defended by Counsel employed on behalf of the Donors of the Bacon, whose job it is to test their evidence and to try and persuade the Jury not to grant them the Flitch

Successful couples are then carried shoulder high by bearers (humble folk) in the ancient Flitch Chair to the Market Place where they take the oath (similar to pre-Reformation marriage vows) kneeling on pointed stones.  Unsuccessful couples have to walk behind the empty chair to the Market Place, consoled with a prize of gammon.

A flitch of bacon

Territorial Organisation of England

 The following only applies to England. The other nations component of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) have different set-up.

The country is divided into 9 administrative units (Regions), managed by a  Council (Governement Office). Great Dunmow is part of "East of England" (Capital Cambridge) :

Regions are subdivided into Counties which have either a two tiers split (Counties and Civil Parishes) or a one tier split into Unitary Authorities.

Great-Dunmow is part of the County of'Essex (Capital Chelmsford)  and  of Uttlesford District (Capital Saffron Walden) :

The responsabilities of the Counties can be compared to those of our "Départements", althought they generally have a bigger size. But they are different at the town level. The District is  the level for decisions. It is managed by an elected District Council, chaired by a "Leader". Its role  cumulates what, in France, is shared between "Municipalité", "Communauté de Communes", and for some services "Sous-préfecture" and"Préfecture". The town (Parish) only has a very limited area of responsabilities. Great-Dunmow's Town Council is only in charge of recreation equipments (e.g. "Doctor's Pond") and fests. It is elected by the people and calls at his head a Mayor, whose position is only honorary. Mayor's appointment is only for 12 months.

 

In addition, it has to be mentioned that a recent law "Local Government Act" voted year 2000, enables the people of Districts to directly elect a Mayor. This law has also given more power to the Regions.

 

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