Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Dunmow Flitch Trial 1938

THIS 1938 RECORDING from the village of Dunmow involves another excursion into the county of Essex alongside the seafront sounds of Southend from 1947. The subject is the Dunmow Flitch Trial, a local folk custom in which married couples compete to win half a pig’s carcass, called a flitch. The trials may date back as the far as the twelfth century and are alluded to in The Wife of Bath’s Tale by Chaucer:

The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.

The trials lapsed in the mid-eighteenth century but were revived in Victorian times. They are now held every four years and are next due in Dunmow in 2016. If you wish to submit your married life to the scrutiny of the village jury of six maidens and six bachelors then you can apply via the Dunmow Flitch Trials website. The photograph below shows the trial’s festivities in 1905:

Dunmow Flitch Trial of 1905

The BBC Genome entry for the program, dated 6 June 1938, suggests that this sound file is only a small surviving fragment of the broadcast. In it, we hear a woman being cross-examined in a humorous way before the summing-up by the judge. There’s some priceless commentary as well, with the Flitch Trials described as a form of relief from ‘the monotony of village life’.

The Genome entry states that the broadcaster C.W. Garner and his wife took part, and their presence alongside other couples is confirmed by the Flitch Trials website records page. However, Garner’s working-class accent was highly distinctive among the received pronunciation voices dominating radio in those times (you can hear him as commentator for skittles match in 1938) and he doesn’t appear in the recording. The woman’s name is mentioned briefly and indistinctly, but it doesn’t sound like Garner either.

The BBC website has a video feature of the last Dunmow Flitch Trials as held in 2012.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Dunmow Flitch Trial 2:43