The recent revivals in the customs of Dunmow render the study of the subject peculiarly interesting; for this is an instance where a very old institution sees more vigorous life in the later centuries than it did in the earlier; nothing in the old days can have surpassed the celebrations of the years since 1900. Brand opens his remarks thus:--"A custom formerly prevailed, and has indeed been recently observed at Dunmow, in Essex. of giving a flitch of bacon to any married couple who would swear that neither of them, in a year and a day, either sleeping or waking, repented of their marriage. The singular oath administered to them ran thus:--
"You shall swear by custom of confession,
If ever you made nuptial trangresssion,
Be you either married man or wife,
If you have brawls or contentious strife
Or otherwise, at bed or at board,
Offended each other in deed or word:
Or, since the parish-clerk said Amen,
You wish'd yourselves unmarried agen,
Or in a twelvemonth and a day,
Repented not in thought any way,
But continued true in thought and desire
As when you join'd hands in the quire.
If to these conditions, without all feare,
Of your own accord you will freely swear,
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave;
For this is our custom at Dunmow well knowne,
Though the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own."
The parties were to take this oath before the Prior and Convent and the whole town, humbly kneeling in the churchyard upon two hard, pointed stones, which are still shown. They were afterwards taken upon men's shoulders, and carried first, about the priory churchyard, and after through the town, with all the friars and brethren, and all the towns-folk, young and old, following them with shouts and acclamations, with their bacon before them."
This will give the reader a good idea of the ceremony, which by one writer is traced to an ancient institution of the lord Fitzwalter, in the reign of King Henry III., who ordered that "whatever married man did not repent of his marriage, or quarrel with his wife, in a year and a day after it, should go to his priory and demand the bacon, on his swearing to the truth, kneeling on two stones in the churchyard."
After a very chequered history--the Lord of the Manor in 1772 would have nothing to do with the custom, and in 1809, one historian says, it was abolished--the practice of offering the flitch was revived in the later years of the nineteenth century, and has continued since then, not always successfully, or regularly, but nevertheless with sufficient popularity to cause a crowd and a holiday. This is all the more remarkable; for the custom is essentially vulgar, and is founded on a vulgar estimate of marriage. It passes comprehension how respectable people can go through any public ceremonial to attest their happiness in marriage and to win a flitch of bacon. But why bacon, the curious reader will ask? To that question there is no answer available, except the utility of the flitch as a household commodity. The same custom prevailed at Whichenover, and it has been traced in Brittany.