Dunmow Flitch Trials - Gastro Obscura

Dunmow Flitch Trials

Only the happiest married couples can win this huge piece of bacon.

Couples who can make it through a year and a day without once “wish[ing] themselves unmarried again” can try to win half a pig’s worth of bacon in the Dunmow Flitch Trials. This Essex-based celebration of love and pork has been running for nearly a thousand years.

Other towns also used to test love by offering a massive flitch, which is an old word for the side of the pig. This was a fabulous prize, suitable only for the rare couple that doesn’t fight. But only Dunmow has carried on with the tradition. Their event takes place every four years, with the next scheduled for 2020. Several couples undergo humorous interrogation by fake barristers, one representing the donors of the bacon and another the couple.

If the judge and jury of twelve unmarried “bachelors and maidens” rule in the couple’s favor, the ceremony ends with the successful couples carried to the marketplace on a carved chair, along with the decorated bacon. Kneeling on stones, the couples swear a long, rhyming oath declaring the harmony of their marriage. 

There are several legends about the origins of the trials, from pagan customs to a nobleman declaring that the Priory of Dunmow should offer bacon to those who could prove their marriages were peaceful. The Dunmow Flitch Trials were famous enough to be referenced in important medieval literature, including William Langland’s Piers Plowman and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

In 1832, one curmudgeonly town steward refused to hold the trial in its traditional location, the town of Little Dunmow. When a novel about the trials revived interest, the new location was nearby Great Dunmow.

If the court decides that a marriage has not been peaceful enough to deserve a flitch, losing couples still receive a “gammon,” the cured hind leg of the pig, as a testament to their slightly imperfect love.

Where to Try It
Written By
Anne Ewbank Anne Ewbank