Chair takes centre stage at Flitch Trials

PUBLISHED: 17:16 07 May 2008 | UPDATED: 07:00 30 May 2010

The ancient chair is carried by the bearers past the Saracens Head on the way to the 2004 Flitch trials

The ancient chair is carried by the bearers past the Saracens Head on the way to the 2004 Flitch trials

THIS week in our series of Flitch 2008 features we look at the history of an often overlooked centrepiece of the proceedings, the ancient Flitch Chair. The flitch chair currently lies inside Dunmow Museum but on flitch day it comes out to take the success

THIS week in our series of Flitch 2008 features we look at the history of an often overlooked centrepiece of the proceedings, the ancient Flitch Chair.

The flitch chair currently lies inside Dunmow Museum but on flitch day it comes out to take the successful claimants on a journey they will never forget. Carried shoulder high they are taken from the tented court room all the way up to the pointed steps outside The Starr Restaurant to take their oaths.

But where does the chair actually come from? Well history suggests that the chair was introduced into proceedings right from some of the very earliest flitch trials when the bearers, in those days made up of 'Humble Folk', carried pilgrims (which have now been replaced by winning couples) from the trials through the village of Little Dunmow to the Priory Church where the oath was taken, hence the wooden seat is also known as the 'Priors Chair'. Of course, the trials moved to Great Dunmow in 1832 but the tradition lived on.

The chair is made out of quality oak and is thought to be made up of pew ends from the Priory Church in Little Dunmow. It was described in F. Roe's Ancient Church Chests and Chairs as a "Venerable thirteenth-century stall which has had the back cut down in height, and sweeping lines of the arms shortened at a later date."

Holes are cut into the sides of the chair in which long poles are passed through to allow up to eight bearers to carry the chair and occupiers around the town.

Pictures of the 'Priors Chair' date as far back as 1751 when an unknown artist at the time painted the procession of Thomas and Ann Shakeshaft after winning the bacon. The picture was purchased by Great Dunmow Parish Council in 1950 and is on display at Foakes Hall.

Charged with looking after the chair during the four year gap in Flitch Trails, the Dunmow museum staff look after the time worn object so that it can be used for many years to come.

Museum Manager Steve Schorah said: "It is great to have the chair here at the museum because it forms a wonderful centrepiece to our current flitch trials display. Also we know it is in safe hands and can be used for many flitch trials to come."

Have you been on the Flitch Chair? What was your experience? Let us know by e-mailing editor@dunmow-broadcast.co.uk or by dropping in a letter to our office on Angel Lane.

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