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Coronavirus: Dunmow Flitch Trials won't bring home the bacon until next year

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The Dunmow Flitch Trials have endured for more than 900 years through the Black Death, the Great Plague of London, smallpox and polio – but Covid-19 has caused this year's event to be postponed.

The anicent tradition, held once every four years, was mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century Canterbury Tales, featuring in The Wife of Bath's Tale. A flitch, or side, of bacon is awarded to married couples who can swear to not having regretted their marriage for a year and a day.

Dunmow Flitch Trials vice-chairman Helen Haines said: "The organising committee, following the relevant Government advice and directives, plus considering the comfort and safety of the audience and all the participants of our wonderful event, have decided to move the July 2020 Flitch Trials, by one year, to Saturday July 10, 2021."

Dunmow Flitch Trials (33759338)
Dunmow Flitch Trials (33759338)

It is commonly claimed that the first flitch was in 1104 when, after a year and a day of marriage, lord of the manor Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed as humble folk and begged a blessing from the prior of the Augustinian priory of Little Dunmow. Impressed by their devotion, the cleric bestowed the bacon on them.

The lord then revealed his true identity and gave land to the priory – on the condition that a flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.

However, it was not until 1445 that the winners of the flitch were officially recorded in documents from the priory now held in the British Museum. The earliest was Richard Wright, who travelled from Norwich.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (33759336)
Dunmow Flitch Trials (33759336)

In 1832, Josiah Vine, a retired cheesemonger from Reading, and his wife tried to claim the flitch, but the steward of Little Dunmow, George Wade, refused and reportedly said the trials were "an idle custom bringing people of indifferent character into the neighbourhood".

As a result, the event moved from Little to Great Dunmow, but ultimately the tradition lapsed until, in 1855, novelist Harrison Ainsworth published The Custom of Dunmow, in which he recounts the attempts by Little Dunmow's Flitch of Bacon publican to win the flitch by marrying a succession of wives in an attempt to find the perfect one. The event was revived.

They are now held every leap year and take the form of a 'court' at Taberds Ley, presided over by a 'judge', with 'counsel' representing the claimants and opposing counsel representing the donors of the flitch, together with a 'jury of six maidens and six bachelors'.

Couples married for at least a year and a day come from far and wide to try to bring home the bacon.

Successful claimants are carried shoulder-high in the ancient Flitch Chair to the Market Place, where they take an oath while kneeling on pointed stones. Unsuccessful couples have to walk behind the empty chair, consoled with a prize of gammon.

All tickets already purchased for this year's event will be automatically carried forward to July 2021. Anyone who wants a refund should email info@dunmowflitchtrials.co.uk.

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