Dunmow, Little (St. Mary)

DUNMOW, LITTLE (St. Mary), a parish, in the union and hundred of Dunmow, N. division of Essex, 2¼ miles (E. S. E.) from Great Dunmow; containing 385 inhabitants. It is celebrated for an ancient custom connected with the manor of Little Dunmow, of delivering a gammon, or flitch of bacon, on demand to any couple who, after having been married a year and a day, will swear that neither party has repented, and that no cause of quarrel or complaint has arisen between them. Before the Reformation the oath used to be administered, and the bacon given, by the prior of the convent; and since, the ceremony has been occasionally performed at a court baron before the steward of the manor. The institution of the custom is supposed to have taken place soon after the Norman Conquest, but the earliest instance on record of the delivery of the bacon, is in the 23rd of Henry VI., and the latest in 1751; and the whole number of successful claimants is said to have been but six couples. The living is a perpetual curacy, net income, £72; patron, the Rev. W. Toke; impropriator, E. Knight, Esq., whose tithes have been commuted for £515. 18. The church consists only of the south aisle and part of the nave of a church that belonged to a priory of Augustine canons founded in 1104, the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £173. 2. 4. Under an arched recess in the south wall is a coffin-shaped tomb, supposed to be that of Lady Juga, sister of Ralph Baynard, foundress of the priory; near it is a monument with the figures of an armed knight and his lady, thought to have been erected for Sir Walter Fitz-Walter, who died in 1198; and on the opposite side of the church is a monument with a female figure in alabaster, said to represent Matilda Fitz-Walter, famous in legendary story as the wife or mistress of Robin Hood, and the object of the illicit passion of King John, who is stated to have caused her to be poisoned, in revenge for having rejected his addresses.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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