An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751

Conjugal bliss and a flitch of bacon

An old custom, practised in Dunmow in Essex, entailed the award of a flitch (or side) of bacon (essentially half a pig, cut sideways) to any couple who had been married for at least a year and a day and who could prove that they had never had a cross word nor repented of their marriage.

The origins of this custom are murky. It may date to as early as 1104 and the foundation of Little Dunmow Priory by Lady Juga Baynard and as a practice to encourage church weddings as opposed to less formal marriage contracts like handfasting. Other sources say that Reginald Fitzwalter, the Lord of the Manor, and his wife appeared at the gates of the Priory a year and a day after their marriage, dressed as peasants and begging the Prior’s blessing. The Prior did not recognise the petitioners and – impressed by their devotion – he made a gift to them of a flitch of bacon. Fitzwalter, in return, bestowed land on the Priory with one very explicit condition: a similar flitch must be awarded to any couple who presented themselves at the Priory and could claim, after a year and a day’s marriage, to be as devoted as he was to his own wife.

Whatever its origins, the Dunmow flitch was well known enough by 1387 to be mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. The wife of Bath said:

The bacon was not set for him, I trow,

That som men have in Essex at Dunmow.

Little Dunmow Priory fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixeenth-century and the custom lapsed into abeyance until 1701.

The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford
The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford; Museums Sheffield

That year, at Dunmow, the flitch of bacon was awarded twice, once to John Reynolds of Hatfield Regis and his wife Ann, wed for ten years, and secondly to a butcher from Much Easton named William Parsley and his wife Jane who had been married – quietly, peaceably, tenderly and lovingly – for around three years. (The Parsley’s marriage is probably the one which took place at Hatfield Broad Oak in 1698, between Will. Parsley and Jean Judd.)

Bringing witnesses with them to prove their marriage and their fidelity to each other, and to their conjugal bliss in their marriage, the couples were brought before a ‘judge and jury’ where they were questioned.  The jury who sat to decide if the Parsleys qualified for the flitch of bacon were five spinsters, Elizabeth, Henrietta, Annabella and Jane Beaumont, and Mary Wheeler. Upon passing this ‘trial’ the man and wife knelt on two pointed stones placed near the door of the church and an oath was administered (the Lady Chapel of the old Priory remains in use as the parish church).

Remains of Dunmow Priory, Essex

You do swear by custom of confession

That you ne’er made nuptual transgression

Nor since you were married man and wife

By household brawls or contentious strife

Or otherwise in bed or at board

Offended each other in deed or in word

Or in a twelve months time and a day

Repented not in any way

Or since the church clerk said Amen

Wish’t yourselves unmarried again

But continue true and in desire

As when you joined hands in holy quire.

After the oath came the sentence. Then, the pair were borne aloft in a wooden chair and carried around the village to the general acclaim of the gathered crowd, and merry-making commenced.

Since these conditions without any fear

Of your own accords you do freely swear

A whole Flitch of Bacon you do receive

And bear it away with love and good leave

For this is the Custom of Dunmow well known

Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the Bacon’s your own.

The chair in which the couples obtaining the bacon were carried.

Next to receive a flitch of bacon in Dunmow were Thomas Shakeshaft and his wife, Anne, née Amis, who had married in the village of Wethersfield in Essex in 1744. Thomas, an eminent weaver (or woolcomber) was, in one report, said to be 80 years of age and Anne was his second wife. After they had been married for seven years, on the 20th June 1751 they journeyed to Dunmow together with witnesses to make their oath.

It had been fifty years since the last claimants, and the Shakeshafts were treated as minor celebrities. Supposedly a crowd of 5,000 people from all over the country came to see the ceremony and when Anne was examined by a jury she admitted that she had only repented once since her marriage; she wished that she had married sooner.

Taking the oath for the gammon of bacon, Thomas Shakeshaft, and Ann, his wife, on June 20th, 1751.

The canny couple cashed in on their windfall. They sold slices of their ham to several of the ladies and gentlemen who had come to Dunmow to join in the celebrations, most of whom were ‘whimsically merry on the occasion’. On returning to their cottage in Wethersfield, the Shakeshafts were £50 richer than when they had set off.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751
An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

If the newspaper who reported Thomas’ age as 80 was anywhere close, then his second wife must have been quite a few decades younger: it was claimed that, on the 18th July 1753, Anne and Thomas became the proud parents of twin sons, named George and Edward. Supposedly baptised at Wethersfield (we have been unable to verify this), their godfathers were the Hon Charles Grey, Esq and Hugh Brampton, Esq and Lady Abdy was godmother (the Abdy’s estate was Felix Hall in Essex). (NB. there is a burial at Wethersfield in 1773 for a Thomas Shakeshaft; unless he reached his centenary and then some, it is likely he was, in fact, a fair bit younger than 80 when he journeyed to Dunmow with his wife.)

Although there are reports of other couples claiming the flitch of bacon at Dunmow during the Georgian era, they appear to be fictional. In 1767 it was said that an Irish nobleman and his wife had headed to the village to undertake the trial, the first instance of anyone of rank to do so.

Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon.
Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Five years later, the lord of the manor refused admittance to John and Susan Gilder of Tarling in Essex when they made a very public entry into Dunmow at the head of a great concourse of spectators and supporters, demanding to be allowed to take the oath and receive the bacon. They found the gates of the old priory nailed shut and returned home empty handed.

Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782
Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782, via Wikimedia

The last noted report concerned Montagu Burgoyne, Esq, named as a commissioner with the Victualling Board and who was later a politician. He had actually demanded – and, it is claimed, received – the flitch, after going through all the requisite ceremonies and oaths. The Burgoynes’ marriage was described as a ‘pattern of conjugal affection’ and so perhaps that gave rise to the notion that the couple had journeyed to Dunmow.

Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785
Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785, via Wikimedia.

Even King George III and Queen Charlotte were not immune to the tradition. A paragraph had appeared in a newspaper suggesting that ‘two Great Personages’ who intended to tour England during the summer of 1770 would make a stop at Dunmow to claim the flitch of bacon.

The Great Personage on reading it shewed it to his consort, who smiled and said, on its being explained to her, that his Majesty should not have it all, for she would have half of it. The person who was in waiting at the time, said, he supposed it was some nonsense of Mr Such-a-one’s. Nonsense, replied the Great Personage, you may call it what you please, but whoever the author of it is, he has paid me a greater compliment than I have ever received since I was King of England.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

The eighteenth-century gossip, Horace Walpole, noted that in Wychnor, Staffordshire where the tradition was also reputedly followed, a flitch was awarded c.1730. However, after 1760 Wychnor didn’t even bother to keep a flitch ready at the manor for any claimants but instead merely displayed a carved wooden replacement over the fireplace in the main hall to pay lip service to the old custom.

Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817
Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817; Brampton Museum

In the Victorian period, the tradition was revived at Dunmow and continues to this day with the ‘trials’ now carried out every four years (in mid-July during a leap year).


History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon, William Andrews, 1878

Popular Antiquities, vol 2, J Brand, 1841

Derby Mercury 7th June 1751, 3rd August 1753 and 6th July 1764

Ipswich Journal 29th June 1751

Caledonian Mercury, 13th June 1767

Kentish Gazette 18th September 1770

Hereford Journal 12th October 1786

[Anon.] (2004-09-23). Burgoyne, Montagu (1750–1836), politician. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (website)


Robert Dingley, founder of The Magdalen Hospital

Having already written about The Magdalen Hospital we thought it would make an interesting article to provide a little more information about one of its founders – Robert Dingley. Robert was later referred to by Mary Ann Radcliffe in ‘The Female Advocate‘ as ‘the first humane proposer of the charity‘.

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London and a descendant of Sir John Dingley of Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight.

Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)
Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)

Robert was an extremely busy man, with fingers in many pies it appears. He took a keen interest in the arts and was an active member of  The Society of Antiquaries from 1734 and ‘dabbled in architecture’ ; became a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1748; was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, along with Sir Francis Dashwood about whom we have previously written in connection with The Dunston Pillar; held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and according to The Whitehall Evening Post of March 30th, 1749 he was appointed Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

On December 30th, 1744 Robert married into another affluent family, his first wife being Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Stamford Mercury 03 January 1745

The couple had three children Susanna (born November 22nd, 1745) and Robert Henry Dingley in 1746. A later child Elizabeth who was born 19th June 1748 did not survive infancy.

In 1759 his first wife Elizabeth died leaving Robert to raise two teenage children.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

With this in mind, Robert wasted no time and married his second wife, Esther Spencer, sister and heir of Thomas Spencer, the following year, on 21st March 1760.

For someone who led such a public life the newspaper report of his death was succinct to say the least –

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 9, 1781 – August 11, 1781

Died yesterday at Lamb-Abbey. Near Eltham, aged 72, Robert Dingley Esq.

However, there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church. Esther died 1784.

An interesting piece appeared some years after his death in Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Saturday, September 9, 1786, just after the death of Jonas Hanway.

So what became of Robert’s children, well his daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds
Reynolds, Joshua; Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child; The Wallace Collection

Susanna and Richard had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

His son, Robert Henry took holy orders and became the rector of Beaumont cum Mose and south Shobury, Essex until his death in March 1793.

Robert Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a governor of Magdalen Hospital, as did Robert’s second wife, Esther.


Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

Portrait, three-quarter length seated wearing velvet suit and long white wig, directed to right holding a book open on right knee to show the title-page of ‘An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Charity’ faced by a picture of a woman, his left arm on arm of his chair beside a table on which are papers bound with ribbons; after Hoare.


Sources Used


The Ipswich Journal 19 November 1748

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 2 By Edward Hasted

An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Hospital By William Dodd


A Trusty Maid; Geroge H Hay; Hospitalfield Arts

A tale of deceit in late 18th and early 19th century Essex

Today’s blog concerns a tale of deceit in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Essex.

Henry Cranmer of Quendon Hall in Essex educated and raised Captain Joseph Cranmer Gordon Esq as his own son, and perhaps he really was so. Gordon continued to receive financial support even as an adult, with frequent remittances of money. Suddenly, however, they ceased.

Upon investigation, Joseph Cranmer Gordon discovered that his benefactor was ‘in a lunatic state’ and controlled entirely by a man named James Winton and a Mrs Margaret Greygoose who had cut off Mr Gordon’s allowance. A commission of lunacy was taken out and Mr Gordon was appointed in control of Henry Cranmer’s estate, much to the annoyance of James Winton.

Quendon Hall via British History Online.
Quendon Hall via British History Online.

James Winton appeared before the commissioners in a menacing fashion, in full regimental uniform with ‘an immense and massy iron truncheon by his side, and a brace of double-barrelled pistols thrust under his girdle’. He was there to prove the sanity of old Henry Cranmer, but instead James Winton’s own sanity was doubted. A verdict of lunacy against Henry Cranmer was proved, as was the threatening behaviour of James Winton – he was shortly afterwards sent to Chelmsford gaol for antagonising one of Cranmer’s tenants.

Both James Winton and Joseph Cranmer Gordon had served in the Essex Militia; Winton wrote an ‘insolent letter’ to Gordon, mentioning that the pair had met once at a mess dinner and pointedly saying that ‘he had served the King for ten years, had been in battles where he had seen the brave nobly die’ and that he wished to meet Gordon upon his return into Essex. Winton was seen to strut around wearing a brace of pistols, with the intention of provoking his rival into a duel.

Estate Staff in a Servants' Hall by Nicholas Condy (1793–1857) (c) Mount Edgcumbe House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Estate Staff in a Servants’ Hall by Nicholas Condy (1793–1857)
(c) Mount Edgcumbe House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mrs Greygoose had been born Margaret Lacey, the granddaughter of Henry Cranmer’s nurse. Her mother was also named Margaret Lacey and she lived at Quendon Hall, as Cranmer’s housekeeper and his mistress. Brought up almost as one of the family by the gullible Henry Cranmer, in 1787 she married the footman, one James Greygoose – it would appear that Henry Cranmer was oblivious to the fact that his footman had married Margaret Lacey for, in a deed written in 1789 in which he gave her five properties, he described her as ‘Margaret Lacey, spinster, now resident at Quendon Hall’ (her mother had married a man named Gregg and moved out, so it could not be that lady who was referred to).  The deed gave the properties to Margaret Lacey in case she survived Cranmer, with a power of revocation during his lifetime. Before long, around 1792 or 1793, Margaret abandoned her husband. Eloping from Quendon Hall to live with James Winton as his wife.[i] A Mr Street was intimate with the household at Quendon Hall at this time and questioned Henry Cranmer about Margaret; Cranmer was anxious for her to return.

Mr Street asked him [Henry Cranmer], as she was a pretty woman, whether he was induced to do this as a reward for kind services: to which he replied, No, – he had never but once attempted to kiss her, and then she had boxed his ears, but he would have married her if she had conducted herself properly.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

James Greygoose was buried at Quendon on the 3rd November 1805 (he continued as a servant to Henry Cranmer) and on the 9th June 1806, at St James’ in Clerkenwell, Margaret Greygoose married James Winton. It was this union and, it appears, James Winton’s influence which led to them treating Henry Cranmer as something of a ‘golden goose’. The Commission into his lunacy took place towards the end of July, just weeks after their wedding.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Margaret was, however, well-matched to James Winton. After the Commission had decided Henry Cranmer was a lunatic she took him [Cranmer] out for a ride and contrived to lure him into a waiting chaise and spirit him away, retaining her hold over him. The Lord Chancellor was applied to, and Henry Cranmer and Mrs Winton were eventually traced to a house in Camden. After some resistance, he was eventually taken back to Quendon Hall and Captain Gordon.

Henry Cranmer died in 1810 and, without access to Cranmer’s wealth, by November 1812 James Winton ‘formerly of Somer’s-town, in the county of Middlesex, and late of Quendon, in the county of Essex, gentleman’ found himself a debtor in the King’s Bench Prison.

NB: Joseph Cranmer Gordon is referred to as John Cranmer Gordon in some of the newspaper reports.


Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 3rd August 1798

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 20th September 1803

Morning Advertiser, 1st August 1806

Morning Post, 1st August 1806

Bury and Norwich Post, 6th August 1806

Morning Chronicle, 6th August 1806

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 15th November 1806

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 13th August 1811

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 16th August 1811

Hertfordshire Genealogy

Historic England


[i] Margaret Lacey and James Greygoose married at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch on the 26th July 1787.

Header image:

A Trust Maid by George H. Hay, Hospitalfield Arts

Penelope Carwardine (1729 – 1804)

Penelope Carwardine

Following our blog about Anne Mee which you seemed to have enjoyed we thought we would take a look at another female artist who specialized in painting miniatures.

According to quite a few sources, Penelope was born around 1730, so just to confirm we will start this post with details of her baptism. She was baptized on 29th April 1729 at Withington, Hereford, her parents being John and Ann, nee Bullock, of Preston Wynne, Herefordshire.

Her siblings included Anne (Frier), Mary (Wilson), Priscilla (Warricker and Crichton, who died in 1776), Rebecca (Probert) and Henrietta (Pugh). She also had a brother Thomas, a clergyman, but who was also a miniature portrait painter and who married a Miss Anne Holgate in Essex.

Descendant chart - John Carwadine
© Joanne Major

Until her marriage, somewhat later in life than was the norm at that time, Penelope pursued the genteel pastime of miniature painting which was viewed as a suitable way for women to earn a respectable living, a necessity given that her father had managed to be reckless with the family money, she was a pupil of the artist Ozias Humphry.

The diarist, James Boswell, noted in March 1763 that Alexander 10th Earl of Eglinton was sitting for his miniature to ‘Mrs Carwardine’, who he described as ‘a very good-looking, agreeable woman, unmarried but I imagine virtuous’.  Given the date of her marriage, this must have taken place just prior to it.  Penelope was described as being a close friend of Joshua Reynolds and his sister Frances.  

Lady Anne Sophia Egerton by Penelope Carwardine, Ashridge House.
Lady Anne Sophia Egerton by Penelope Carwardine, c.1765-1770. Ashridge House.

It is reputed that Penelope exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761, 1762, 1771, and 1772, however, on checking The Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791; the Free Society of Artists, 1761-1783; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from the foundation of the societies to 1791, the earlier entries refer to Mrs Thomas (Ann) Carwardine, this seems more likely to actually relate to Penelope’s mother Ann despite the reference to Thomas.

Penelope married James Butler, a church organist at Ranelagh and St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Westminster. The couple were married at St James, Piccadilly, St James the Less, Thorndike Street, 26th May 1763. Until now there have always been two possible dates for her marriage, many sources saying that she married around 1772, gave up her work at that time and that no miniatures by her after this date are known. The majority of her works are said to have been produced between 1750 and 1765.

6 May 1763 marriage

Her husband James also taught organ and harpsichord at Mr Dubdat’s on Berwick Street, Soho until his death in 1774. Fortunately for us, James left a will in which he named not only Penelope but also his 4 children from his previous marriage – Elizabeth (1751), Harriott (1755), Thomas Hamley (1756)  and Anthony (1757). He also made provision for Charles Mellish of Blyth, a relative of  Mrs Gooch who we have written about previously.

Descendant chart - James Butler
© Joanne Major


Anne Holgate, wife of Thomas Carwardine, Romney
Anne Holgate, wife of Thomas Carwardine, Romney

Sources also give the date of Penelope’s demise as being 14th October 1805 at Preston Wynne, Herefordshire (the place of her mother’s birth). However, when checking her last will and testament this cannot be correct as her will was written on the 15th January 1804 and then proven on the 30th October 1804. Penelope was, at the time of writing her will living in the village of East Colne, Essex.

However, her death did take place in Herefordshire according to the Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2 and the Bath Chronicle reported her death on the 18th Oct 1804. With the kind help of the Hereford Archives we have managed to establish there was a burial on the 16th October 1804 for a Priscilla Butler, rather than a Penelope, but that her gravestone does record her correctly, so possibly a simple mistake on the part of the vicar who got the sisters mixed up, presumably, let’s hope he named her correctly during the funeral service!

Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2 - 1804
Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2.

To be certain that we had found the correct persons will we have noted some of the beneficiaries:-

Her sister Mary Wilson was left a long India shawl, agate snuff box and £10 for mourning. Her cousin Martha Allan – £10 for mourning and £10 annual annuity between Martha and Mary, also her clothes to be divided between them.

Her sister Henrietta Pugh – received £100 with Rebecca Probert getting £10 for mourning. Lucy Crichton received the portrait of her father the late William Crichton Esq. Her sister-in-law, wife of her brother Thomas Carwardine, a gold repeating watch in trust for her daughter Ann Carwardine and £200 in the 4 percents, hoop diamond ring, ring connected with her brother and the long shawl given to her by Claude Benset Esq. To her niece Ann Carwardine she bequeathed diamond earrings. To the poor of the village of Preston Wynne in Withington, Hereford, £5 and her brother Thomas Carwardine received the residue of her estate.

Maria Gunning c.1757 by Penelope Carwardine, Wallace Collection.
Maria Gunning (later Countess of Coventry) c.1757 by Penelope Carwardine, Wallace Collection.



Anne Gilchrist, her life and writings. edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, with a prefatory notice by William Michael Rossetti

The Wallace Collection

Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2