Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Great Dunmow Town Trail

The Doctors Pond

An 3 mile circular walk around the small Essex town of Great Dunmow

With plenty of historic buildings, a fine 13th century church, some great pubs and a fantastic Indian Restaurant this provides any visitor a taste of this ancient town. The walk is simple and easy and one cannot visit Dunmow without discovering the interesting history of the Dunmow Fitch which is the main feature to this walk.

Great Dunmow Circular Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Great DunmowView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Great DunmowView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
3 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy
Terrain
Footpaths and town pavements
Obstacles
The roads around Dunmow can be busy and care should be taken when crossing these

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2016-10-07
Walk Time
15:00 to 16:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm bright early autumn day

Walk Notes

Great Dunmow is in close proximity to Stanstead Airport. That makes it a strategic position for bed and breakfasting before departing to destinations further afield and this is the reason that prompted this walk. With an early morning flight booked and not wanting to drive through the night, the Harwood House B&B offers a friendly overnight stay plus parking for the duration of ones vacation and transport to and from the airport. Therefore, arriving mid-afternoon and with a couple of hours of spare time, a wander around this historic village seemed appropriate.

Two longer trails pass through the town, namely the Saffron Trail and the Flitch Way and it is the first of these which is partly used to create this compact trail. According to some websites, an official Town Trail exists, although no details, directions or locations to pick up a leaflet are provided. Therefore this route will suffice for any curious visitor who wants to see the sights and history of the area.

Before setting out, it is best to acquaint oneself with a little background to the town. The name of Dunmow is taken from its location above the River Chelmer valley, and literally means Meadow on the hill. This is an apt description of the present town which sits on the hill to the west of the river although the old original settlement, which is known as Church End, is in the valley where the parish church is located on the river banks. The town was known as Chpping Dunmow during the 14th century which differentiated it from the village of Little Dunmow, which is located to the south east of the town.

The start of the trail leads out through a modern housing estate which now covers the fields that extend to the former manor of Newton Hall. Development is still continuing down to this ancient manor, which was one of seven that made up Dunmow. Arguably one of the most scenic locations in this area, it is disappointing to see mass development encroaching upon it. Despite this development, the right of way continues to exist and will no doubt get incorporated into the tarmac and concrete once complete. As the trail reaches Newton Hall, it turns to the east, past the picturesque area known as Parsonage Down with its green and thatched cottages, and onto the main road where the closed down Cricketers pub stands as well as the location of the old Smithy.

A footpath then leads across the fields down into the valley where the parish church sits. This location is known as Church End and is thought to have been the original settlement of Dunmow. The granting of a market charter in 1227 is probably the event that prompted the move of the community centre to the present day High Street and Market Place. This makes Church End a charming isolated hamlet full of historic buildings including the 13th century St Mary's church.

There is a small walk on the east side of the church that leads down to the river which, although a little overgrown, is worth exploring. The river can be seen once again from the bridge on the road that twists through the hamlet. The river is the Chelmer, the same river than gives Chelmsford its name and flows out into the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon. It is no more than a stream at Dunmow and winds its way through the valley, past the meadows that this trail now navigates, beyond the Angel and Harp pub. On the opposite side of the river is a housing estate through which the present day St Edmunds Lane passes. This was formerly known as Deadmans Lane, as depicted on OS maps from the late 19th century which also detail a dwelling labelled as Pest House. Local folklore states that the Pest House is where the residents of Dunmow bought those infected by incurable disease, such as the plague, and is probably why the road was so named. It does make one wonder how many residents of this estate know its history. The 2003 publication Contours of Death and Disease in Early Modern England by Mary J. Dobson even goes so far to state that

The sound of heavy breathing of the ghost of a small-pox victim in the pest house in Deadmans Lane in Dunmow continued to haunt later generations.

At the far end of the meadows is a footpath that leads back up into town where more historic locations can be explored including the Doctors Pond at the point where the route joins the road into town and beyond this Talberds Ley where the modern day Flitch Trials are held every four years. It is unknown as to how the pond got its name and there are a couple of possible suggestions. The first dates from the 18th century when a Doctor Rayner used to care for the pond and keep it stocked with fish. A second suggestion involves another doctor who resided at Brick House, opposite the pond, and who was said to have used the pond as a readily available supply of leeches. In those days bleeding with leeches was thought to cure everything from the common cold to a broken leg, a little like the modern day equivalent of paracetamol, but with less of a success rate in relief or cure. What is more certain is that the Lionel Lukin used the pond to test his non-sinkable boat in 1784 which paved the way for modern lifeboats.

It is worth perusing through the High Street where more historic buildings can be seen including the the Old Town Hall and the Clock House which dates from 1586. Probably the most notable thing about Dunmow is not its buildings and landmarks but its four yearly event which is known as the Flitch Trials which is documented in the main feature to this walk.

Bridge over River Chelmer
Bridge over River Chelmer

Directions

Town Trail around Great Dunmow

Start the walk on the western side of the village, on Stortford Road. Just beyond the Queen Victoria pub, on the right hand side of the road take the path by the right hand junction. Look for the public path between the houses on the right of the grassed area and take this.

The path emerges onto a green that is surrounded by a road and houses. Go straight across to the path between the houses on the opposite side.

At the end of the path it meets Willow Road. Turn right and follow this to the end. The is a dead end but just before this, on the right, there is a short road that appears to lead nowhere. Take this and then turn left at the bottom on the footpath. As the footpath reaches the end of the house on the left, there is a footpath shaded by trees on the left. Take this which is part of the Saffron Way

Keep to this pathway which will turn left then right, then lead onto a housing estate. Walk straight ahead. At the time of writing another development was underway beyond the houses. A footpath leads through this, diagonally across the fields and down to a track. Ignore the paths leading away from this up to a pond.

At the track turn right and follow this down to the road which emerges opposite the now closed Cricketers pub. Cross the road, and look for a footpath between the houses on the left. This leads into open fields where a public footpath crosses down the hill towards the church. Keep straight ahead into the car park to the cemetery and then follow the road out on the right. The church is on the left with a wooden framed house on the right. The church includes a short walk down to the river which is worth investigating

The road leads out onto Church Street at a double bend. To the left , on the corner of the junction is the former Six Bells pub, and further along this road is a bridge over the river. Straight ahead is the Angel and Harp pub and just past this, where the road takes a sharp bend to the right is a footpath on the left which leads through the meadows adjoining the river. .

Follow the well trodden footpath through the meadows, passing through gaps in the hedgerows for approx 700 yds where it meets a paved path. To the left this passes over the river, to the right it leads through trees back to town which is the way to go.

When the path meets a road continue straight ahead, following the twisting roads through to the main road. To the right, just down the road on the left is The Doctors Pond. To the left the road leads into the town centre. Either route can be taken. If going into town, turn left at the junction by the Clock Tower. If taking the pond route, walk along the edge of the pond and across a green up to a road. turn left and follow the road up to Stortford Road. In either case, Stortford Road will lead to the starting point.

Footpath to Church End
Footpath to Church End

Pubs

The Angel and Harp, Great Dunmow View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Church Street, Great Dunmow
Website

17th century public house with Grade II listed building status and featuring oak-beams, open fireplace and an extensive garden overlooking the Chelmer river which is now more than a small stream at this point. Currently a family run pub and restaurant with a spacious bar, relaxed seating and omfortable seating, and large garden overlooking a stream. Four ales

Review

Friendly eatery and even though we were there only for a drink, tasters of the ale on offer were provided. The result from the three on offer was a very drinkable Nethergate ale. This pub is worth searching out and highly recommended.

Queen Victoria, Great Dunmow View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
Stortford Road, Great Dunmow
Website

In reality this is the much acclaimed Jalsa Ghar Indian Restaurant but the building still boasts its original pub identity and indeed one half of the building still reflects a traditional English Inn with a bar and all the usual pub paraphernalia. A picture postcard timber framed and thatched building with Grade II listed building status. Two ales on offer, Sharps Doom Bar and Green King IPA

Review

Truly delicious curry and well recommended. The drinking side of the building has the feel of a traditional cosy old English Inn

St Marys Church, Church End
St Marys Church, Church End

Features

Dunmow Flitch TrialsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Dunmow Flitch Trials is a ceremony that is, in modern day, peculiar to Great Dunmow although there are historic records of such customs in other towns, and indeed across Europe. The custom involves married couples who plead their case to a Judge and Jury that they have, in the words of tradition, in twelvemonth and a day not wisht themselves unmarried again. Any couple can petition to be judged, not just residents of the local area, and if successful they are awarded what is traditionally known as a Flitch of bacon, which is a whole side of pig.

The custom is said to have originated in close by Little Dunmow and dates back to the 12th century. An often quoted reference to the history of the custom is Richard Gough's augmented edition of Camden's Britannia of 1806 as well as a print from a painting by David Ogbourne, entitled 'The Last Taking of the Oath of Dunmow'. This print, which includes an inscription describing the event and its history, dates from 1751 and depicts the procession of the wining claimants on their return from Dunmow church.

William Hone's 1838 publication The Every-day Book and Table Book references this inscription when discussing the origins of the custom, which states that it began in or about the year 1111, by Robert, son of Richard FitzGilbert, Earl of Clare. However, Hone argues with this statement, declaring that it was Robert Fitzwalter that originated the event, who, according to Wikipedia, was the great grandson of Richard FitzGilbert.

The Great Dunmow Flitch website offers a slightly different origin, which it dates as 1104. This account expands upon the origin story, although it provides no reference or citation as to where this information was gleaned.

Lord of the Manor Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and begged blessing of the Prior a year and a day after marriage. The Prior, impressed by their devotion bestowed upon them a Flitch of Bacon. Upon revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.

Whatever the truth is to the origins, there are accounts of the ceremony throughout the centuries with Hone providing evidence of instances of the Trials from 1445, 1467 and 1510, providing the names of those successful, which are Richard Wright of Badbury near Norwich, Stephen Ayston-Parva of Essex and Thomas le Fuller of Cogshall respectively. One must only assume these men all had their respective wives as their spouses certainly are not listed. There is also a mention of the trials in Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales, and in Daniel Defoe's 1742 publication A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, by a gentleman

Writing in 1838, Hone appears to imply that the custom had ceased during the 18th century. This would be in agreement with James Dugdales The New British Traveller to which Hone makes reference. In Dugdale's publication, he explicitly states the fact that

The last persons who received it, were John Shakeshanks, woolcomber, and Anne his wife of Weathersfield, who established their right on 20th June 1751

enforcing this assumption with a quote from Camden's Brittania from 1809, stating that the custom had been abolished. Dugdale then states that such a statement is not entirely true as as he understands that it is only dormant, either through the want of claimants or from neglect to enforce the demand. John Brands 1841 Observations on Popular Antiquities makes the suggestion that the custom was being considered for revival, offering a quote from The John Bull newspaper of October 8 1837 which speaks of the renewal of the ceremony at a meeting of the Saffron Walden and Dunmow Agricultural Society.

Other references, including the Flitch website, credit the 19th century revival of the Flitch Trials to William Harrison Ainsworth who, in 1854, published a novel entitled The Flitch of Bacon. This piece of fiction follows the attempts of a publican to win the Flitch, marrying a succession of women as he tries to find the perfect partner.

The modern Flitch Trials date from post WWII years when they were given a four yearly interval. They still have a judge and the traditional jury of six maidens and six bachelors as well as a Clerk of the Court, an Usher and a Counsel representing the claimants and an Opposing Counsel representing the donors of the Flitch of Bacon. The event is held in a marquee on the traditional common land adjacent to the Doctors Pond known as Talberds Ley and is not run as a competition between the couples but purely as a court to determine whether any of the couples can provide enough evidence to convince the court that they are worthy of the Flitch. As such, more than one couple can and have been awarded the Flitch.

The successful candidates are then carried in the ancient Flitch chair to the market place where they have to take an oath whilst kneeling on traditional pointed stones. The unsuccessful couple are awarded a consolation prize of a gammon and have to follow the empty chair to the market place. The last Trial was held on July 9th 2016 with the next expected to take place in July 2020.

References
St Marys Church, Church End
St Marys Church, Church End

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2017-02-05

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