"The Jury finds for the Bacon"

Hubby Dearest and I had a jolly adventure this past weekend. We drove 30 miles to the beautiful ancient town of Great Dunmow and, as ambassadors of marriage, took part in a tradition so old that it is referred to in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale and the even earlier Piers Plowman. In fact, the Dunmow Flitch Trials are rumoured to go back to 1105, although the first recorded winner's name dates from 1445.

The Trials are celebrated every four years in Dunmow. Over the course of a day five couples come before a judge, are cross-examined by barristers, and have to satisfy the Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in 'twelvemonth and a day', they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again'. If they can demonstrate that their marital happiness is such that they are worthy of a prize, they win a flitch. That's half a pig, cut lengthways. 

Prior to the day we'd applied (online) and been interviewed by the Judge. Our prepared statement had been circulated to the barristers, and before our trial we met with the (very lovely) barristers representing us to go through it. Our trial was the first in the afternoon session, so we and the other couple (Dave and Sue, also very lovely) then joined the procession to the trial marquee. 
And what a procession it was! Led by the Town Crier, it included morris dancers, a brass band, majorettes, the flitch (carried overhead on a frame by bearers in historical costumes), the two chairs similarly borne aloft, the Jury wearing their smartest suits and white dresses, and finally the judge and counsel in all their finery. And we were cheered and clapped as we walked. HD and I were applauded when we walked into the marquee too. That was quite a thing.

It was pretty uncomfortable in the dock, with only a narrow step to stand on, but we managed to hang on, although my hands were purple by the end of the trial (I found out later that the dock had only been painted the day before). I wondered initially whether counsel would focus on the fact that HD had taken on three children when he married me, or that in our wedding vows we married not "Till death us do part" but "For time and all eternity". 

But no. The subject of most interest was our nerdiness and shared love of sci-fi, from the fact that our first date had been spent watching Doctor Who at my house, to my walking down the aisle to the theme from Star Trek: Voyager. But it got a lot of laughs. The barristers were amazing and hilarious and so good at thinking on their feet. Far more than I was. Asked to sum up, I found I was lost for words. (Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said. That I'd had a tough first marriage and wished myself unmarried every day. But since I married Roderic I wake up every morning and give thanks that I am married to such a good man.)

In the final summing up the counsel for the bacon (whose job was to stop us winning it) focussed on the fact that, after Roderic proposed, I had gone off to the toilets to examine the ring. I wanted to check it was expensive enough, they purported. At that point I wasn't allowed to say anything, but wished I could point out that I wasn't some gold-digger, but he had proposed to me in the dark (in the back row of the Odeon cinema in Southend, in fact, during the closing credits of Harry Potter IV) and I just wanted to be able to see the ring I had accepted.
So the Jury went off to deliberate, and we chatted with the Chaplain (another lovely man - being nice seems to be a requirement for living in Dunmow) who warned us that we might not win, and might be disappointed about that. Luckily, this is the twenty-first century, and failing to be awarded half a pig doesn't mean that our family will starve over the winter. (The expression "bringing home the bacon" is thought to originate from the Dunmow Flitch Trials and a family could live on the meat for six months, so it was no trifle.)

We were, in fact, the only couple that lost that day, but not the only couple not to bring home the bacon; Dave and Sue live in Spain, so they donated their flitch to the local hospice. And yes, we were disappointed, but consoled ourselves with the fact that we didn't have to be carried precariously through the wet slippery streets of Dunmow. I think the chair-bearers were quite pleased about that too.

Neither did we have to kneel on sharp pointed stones and take the Oath:

"You do swear by custom of confession
That you ne'er made nuptual transgression
Nor since you were married man and wife
By household brawls or contentious strife
Or otherwise in bed or at board
Offended each other in deed or in word
Or in a twelve months time and a day
Repented not in thought in any way
Or since the church clerk said amen
Wish't yourselves unmarried again
But continue true and desire
As when you joined hands in holy quire."

We did have to stand on the "drey" in the market place, however, and be awarded our consolation prize of a gammon, and a bottle of champagne. Knowing that we are teetotal, someone had very kindly bought us a big tub of hot chocolate too and I was quite touched by that gesture. As was the judge when we gave him the champagne to celebrate his retirement, since this was his last Trials day after 40 years' service. So it all worked out perfectly at the end. And we know that our marriage is worth half a pig, even if the Jury couldn't see that.

So to sum up, we drove to a lovely historic town, met some very nice people, took part in an ancient tradition which very few people get the privilege of being involved in, and went home with a large slab of meat and Cadbury's hot chocolate, a toy pig and a commemorative mug. It was a great day.

Yes, it is all completely mental, and a bit surreal, but huge fun and great entertainment for the crowd. And it is also rather beautiful to know that marriage is still alive and well and that there are plenty of people prepared to stand up in front of 300 strangers and testify to their love and marital harmony.


(Sorry about the ridiculous spacing in this post - Blogger is a total pain.)


  1. Yours is one of my favorite love stories. I'm glad it has been broadcast to the wider world! :)


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