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Great Dunmow Flitch Trials 2022: New judge to preside over proceedings

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A new judge has been appointed for Saturday's (July 9) historic Dunmow Flitch Trials.

After spending 26 years as counsel for the bacon, Daniel Pitt has finally been promoted.

He said: "I am honoured – as well as surprised – to be asked to be the judge for the Great Dunmow Flitch Trials 2022.

The new judge, Daniel Pitt (57695305)
The new judge, Daniel Pitt (57695305)

"My only experience as a judge has been playing one in my school play when I was 17. However, I've seen Rumpole of the Bailey and Judge John Deed so I'm sure it will all be fine.

"I do at least have some experience of the trials. Michael Chapman was my judge in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012, and Dave Monk from BBC Radio Essex was my judge in 2016. They had different styles but both were masterful. It is a big wig to fill."

Daniel is a barrister in Leeds, specialising in family law, and began his flitch career as a junior counsel in 1996.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695340)
Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695340)

The trials are back after the Covid-19 pandemic forced organisers to postpone the pageant in 2020 and 2021.

The event, which is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century Canterbury Tales, returns to its customary home at Talberds Ley.

A flitch, or side, of bacon, is awarded to couples who can swear to not having regretted their marriage for a year and a day.

It is commonly claimed that the first flitch was in 1104 when the 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.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695343)
Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695343)

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.

Chaucer, writing between 1387 and 1400, mentioned the trials in his Wife of Bath's Tale. 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.

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".

Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695337)
Dunmow Flitch Trials (57695337)

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.

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

For tickets and more details, see www.dunmowflitchtrials.co.uk. All tickets bought for the 2020 and 2021 trials are automatically valid for this year.

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