Great Dun­mow

You are sure of a smile if you visit Great Dun­mow, and never is this more the case than at Christ­mas. Pe­tra Hornsby finds out more

Essex Life - - CONTENTS -

All smiles in this mar­ket idyl

Nes­tled in the Ut­tles­ford Dis­trict in the west of the county, the town of Great Dun­mow has a most in­trigu­ing tra­di­tion for which it is renowned both lo­cally and much fur­ther afield. This tra­di­tion – along with a lively high street where thriv­ing busi­nesses main­tain the heart of the town and a pop­u­lar com­edy venue – il­lus­trates per­fectly the town’s unique na­ture.

The Fl­itch Tri­als date back to 1104 and the Au­gus­tinian Pri­ory of Lit­tle Dun­mow. The then Lord of the Manor, Regi­nald Fitzwal­ter, and his wife dressed as peas­ants and ap­pealed to the prior to bless their union fol­low­ing a year and a day of mar­riage. The prior, im­pressed by the de­vo­tion of the cou­ple, gave them the bless­ing along with a fl­itch (half a pig) of ba­con. In grat­i­tude, Fitzwal­ter re­vealed his iden­tity and be­queathed his land to the pri­ory on the con­di­tion that ev­ery year a cou­ple demon­strat­ing sim­i­lar de­vo­tion would also be sim­i­larly re­warded.

In 1832 the tra­di­tion, which is held in high cer­e­mony and in good hu­mour, was trans­ferred to Great Dun­mow and still takes place ev­ery leap year, at­tract­ing plenty of at­ten­tion.

Peo­ple come from across the county and beyond to at­tempt to prove their mar­i­tal strength and

‘There’s a lively high street where thriv­ing busi­nesses main­tain the heart of the town’

take the ba­con home. The court is presided over by a judge and coun­sel rep­re­sent­ing the hope­ful claimants and the op­pos­ing coun­sel who speak for the sup­pli­ers of the ba­con. Along­side them sits a jury of six maid­ens and six bach­e­lors, plus an usher who at­tempts to keep or­der dur­ing the im­pas­sioned pleas!

Suc­cess­ful cou­ples are car­ried shoul­der-high in the Fl­itch Chair to the Mar­ket Place where they take an oath, and those who have been un­able to con­vince the judge and jury of their de­vo­tion walk be­hind with a con­so­la­tion prize of a gam­mon. This spec­ta­cle is cer­tainly car­ried out in good hu­mour and has some­thing of a touch of the­atre about it, which is en­joyed by lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike.

An­other fea­ture of Great Dun­mow, which also at­tracts peo­ple from fur­ther afield and is equally rich in hu­mour, is the Com­edy Club – the cre­ation of cir­cuit comic Paddy Len­nox who founded the club in 2014. While liv­ing in Bishop’s Stort­ford, Paddy was un­able to set up a com­edy club in the town at the time as there was al­ready a com­edy venue in oper­a­tion. He looked around for other op­tions within

a 12-mile ra­dius and ar­rived in Great Dun­mow.

Paddy ex­plains about the at­trac­tion and suc­cess of the club. ‘The venue is per­fect,’ he says. ‘Ef­fec­tively it is a drama stu­dio, but it has great sound and light­ing. It has a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 120 and this means the at­mos­phere is very in­ti­mate, and this re­ally works. We sell out for ev­ery gig with peo­ple queu­ing to get in. Many peo­ple come to ev­ery show and what makes the at­mos­phere so spe­cial for me, the au­di­ence and ev­ery­one in­volved is the fact that we staff the events purely with vol­un­teers – peo­ple who, after work, choose to come and man the bar or run the box of­fice be­cause they love the at­mos­phere.’

Paddy says that one man, an A&E con­sul­tant, drives all the way from Ipswich to help serve drinks.

‘My wife makes a beef or veg­etable chilli and this al­ways proves to be pop­u­lar with the au­di­ence and adds an­other di­men­sion to the evening. We use re­cy­clable bowls and wooden spoons, of course! The beer sup­plied comes from a Colch­ester brew­ery too, which keeps it lo­cal. This ar­range­ment came about after a man in the au­di­ence heck­led me about beer and turned out to be part-owner in a brew­ery – and from Colch­ester!’

The com­edy nights are them­selves some­thing of a pack of foot­ball stick­ers; you’ll al­ways get Paddy in there as com­pere and then, who knows? Ed Byrne and Hal Crut­ten­den, both friends of Paddy’s, have made ap­pear­ances at the club, al­though Paddy never ad­ver­tises a ‘big­ger’ TV name.

Paddy adds: ‘There are al­ways three acts and two in­ter­vals and al­though there might be some­one who is more of a house­hold name, there is plenty of new ma­te­rial and comic ta­lent, which is a plea­sure to be able to in­tro­duce and is al­ways well re­ceived.’

Paddy works at the Com­edy Store in Lon­don and gets to meet a lot of ris­ing ta­lent and is of­ten ap­proached by comics ask­ing him if they can per­form at Great Dun­mow.

Paddy says: ‘We sit in this cor­ner of Europe, as a rocky lit­tle out­crop that doesn’t take it­self too se­ri­ously. We have a tra­di­tion of be­ing able to laugh at our­selves. We also do some­thing called Post­code Com­edy and our au­di­ences love the comic ob­ser­va­tions about lo­cal places. For us in Dun­mow, Fel­stead and Steb­bing are on the re­ceiv­ing end of quite a lot of rib­bing and there are sev­eral ref­er­ences to the Rod­ings, which our au­di­ence loves!’

Com­edy aside, fun and mer­ri­ment are in plen­ti­ful sup­ply this month as Great Dun­mow does what it does so well, largely thanks to the or­gan­is­ers on the Town Team – Christ­mas!

On Satur­day, De­cem­ber 1, the an­nual Christ­mas Lights switch on will take place on the high street and the fun be­gins at 3pm. Chil­dren can, once again, visit Santa in his grotto (tick­ets to be pur­chased in ad­vance) and re­veal their Christ­mas wishes. Tick­ets can be booked via the web­site www.vis­it­great­dun­mow.co.uk/ events

Santa him­self will switch the lights on at 5pm. Other at­trac­tions will in­clude a bouncy cas­tle, tea cup rides, face paint­ing and live en­ter­tain­ment from lo­cal mu­si­cal acts. There will also be plenty of en­tic­ing re­fresh­ment stands serv­ing sea­sonal food and drink, in­clud­ing a Pros­ecco stall for those want­ing a bit of fes­tive fizz. As al­ways, the town will be all set for those want­ing to do some es­sen­tial Christ­mas shop­ping so, in ad­di­tion to the craft stalls, the shops along the high street will be well worth a visit for gift ideas. Cafes will be of­fer­ing a wel­come place for a sit down, a nice warm drink and an en­ergy boost in the form of a slice of de­li­cious cake – what’s not to like?

This com­mu­nity day is free as the Town Team be­lieve ev­ery­one should have the chance to at­tend, what­ever their bud­get, al­though there will be do­na­tion buck­ets dot­ted around on the day to help to­wards the fund­ing for next year’s event.

Great Dun­mow is a great ex­am­ple of a com­mu­nity hon­our­ing not just its his­tory but cre­at­ing a vi­brancy that serves its res­i­dents to­day. This time of year is a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for cel­e­bra­tion and to ap­plaud their suc­cesses.

ABOVE:Si­mon Broad­kin, AKA Lee Nel­son, ap­pear­ing at the Great Dun­mow com­edy Club

BE­LOW RIGHT: Santa on a visit to Great Dun­mow

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