Dunmows True Greatness
What makes Dunmow great? Nicky Adams speaksto some people who should know the answer - the residents of this ancient Uttlesford market town
WHY IS it that the north Essex district of Uttlesford just keeps popping up in the top ten list of the best places in the country to live in, work in or visit? Well, according to Judith Thompson, local tourist information officer, one reason is the old-fashioned charms of Great Dunmow.
The town is certainly famous for its mellow plaster cottages and its peaceful riverside church, but there is plenty of history for people to explore too. 'Visitors and residents follow the Town Trail and learn about the Doctor's Pond, named after a local doctor who kept leeches here,' explains Judith. 'The impressive Old Town Hall has timbers and pargetting and the lovely Clock House dates back to 1586. You can find out how barley was turned into malt for the brewing industry at the beautifully restored Maltings in Mill Lane, which also houses the local museum with exhibits illustrating the social and commercial life of the town over the last few hundred years.'
Of course, Dunmow is particularly well known as the venue for the ancient Flitch Trials, which began in the nearby village of Little Dunmow in 1120 and are held every four years on a leap year.'Thousands of people come to watch the trials to see a flitch (side) of bacon awarded to the married couple from anywhere in the world who can satisfy the judge and jury of six maidens and six bachelors that in, "twelvemonth and a day they have not wished themselves unmarried again",' explains Judith. 'The winning couple is paraded through the town on a special chair and then awarded their flitch of bacon with much celebration. It's a wonderful tradition, totally unique to Dunmow.'
But although the Flitch Trials draw visitors to the town every four years, the High Street is regularly busy with shoppers who come to Dunmow for the selection of specialist stores it has to offer. One is Lipsons Photography, which was established in the High Street in the 1960s by Mike Perry, who has lived in Great Dunmow all his life. As chairman of Dunmow and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, he is pleased to report that the town is still attracting plenty of shoppers.
'People come from far and wide to shop here and they really like the traditional High Street and the historic surroundings,' says Mike. 'They may well come to Dunmow for their photographs, or their shoes, but while they're here they'll shop for all manner of other things too. People keep on coming back.'
Loyal customersAnother Dunmow trader who has lived in the town his whole life is Peter Sweetland, whose butcher's shop opened in Stortford Road in 1952 and has had a band of very loyal customers ever since. 'People like the traditional customer service they get in Dunmow,' he says. 'They trust us. For example, they know the meat we sell is local. In fact, most of it comes from just three miles away. Our sausages keep them coming back for more, particularly the speciality types, such as the fiery Welsh dragon, venison, Old English and pork and apple. Business in Dunmow is good.'
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As well as visiting shoppers, local people certainly appreciate their High Street and are happy to support the independent traders. 'You can get so many things in Dunmow that you just wouldn't find anywhere else and people love Dunmow for that,' says Sarah Cassidy, of Cassidy's Delicatessen. 'Some are being a little more careful with their money these days and they're spending longer looking for something special and making use of local traders so that we can keep serving them.'
Sarah is finding that customers are choosing to cook more elaborate meals at home as an alternative to going out quite so often and her customers often come to her for exotic recipe ingredients. 'Cheeses are especially popular on a Saturday,' she says, 'particularly the unusual varieties, such as Stinking Bishop and Black Bomber, but people also come back time and again for herbs, spices and oils that you can't get in the supermarket. If we don't have it, we can usually source it, and people love that customer service.'As secretary of the Dunmow and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Sarah is very keen to spread the news of Dunmow's town centre to people who might not be quite so local. 'We're just ten minutes from Stansted, but most of the airport's thousands of passengers pass right by Dunmow without dropping in,' she says. 'We're working on ways to market the town to airport users, who might like to pick up last-minute gifts, or perhaps choose some food to take home with them. Dunmow is a unique place to shop, and even more people would enjoy coming here if only they knew about us.'
It's no surprise that when people do get to know Dunmow they often decide to stay. Gwynn Davies came to the town with his young family more than 30 years ago and today is Great Dunmow's mayor. He still remembers the feeling of community and friendliness he noticed when he first arrived and says that this has only increased over the years. He puts this down to local people's involvement in the life of the town.
'Dunmow has many clubs and societies, and when you get involved in community matters then you will be richly rewarded with friendships and a sense of belonging,' says Gwynn. 'We have the Historical Society, various Friendship Clubs, the Workers' Educational Association for interesting talks and plenty of sports clubs including bowls, football, cricket and tennis. There's an excellent day centre for the over 55s serving morning coffee and a good value hot lunch several times a week using local produce. Not to mention the WI, Rotary, Probus and lots of others.'Dunmow's calendar is packed with events too. 'Concerts, quizzes, musicals, horticultural shows and art displays are held throughout the year in the Foakes Hall, the Day Centre or in the award-winning Maltings complex which also houses Dunmow's Museum,' adds Gwynn. 'Of course, the new library is opening soon and the new Town Square will be ready by the autumn. They will rejuvenate the centre of Dunmow. All in all, Great Dunmow really is a great place to live.'