Great Dunmow

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Great Dunmow is an ancient market town in the Uttlesford district of Essex, England. It is situated on the north of the A120 road, approximately midway between Bishop’s Stortford and Braintree, 6 miles east of London Stansted Airport.

The second Halifax Rural Areas Quality of Life Survey ranked Uttlesford District as the 4th best place to live in the UK out of 114 rural authority areas surveyed (one in which the majority of residents live in towns or villages with populations of less than 10,000).

Originally the site of a Roman settlement on Stane Street, the town thrived during the Middle Ages. Many buildings survive from this period, including a sixteenth century town hall. Dunmow means “Meadow on the Hill”. The settlement was variously referred to as Dunmow Magna, Much Dunmow, or most commonly Great Dunmow.

Great Dunmow borders the former estate of Easton Lodge, a country house belonging to the Maynard family. The most notable member, Frances Maynard, became the Countess of Warwick and later a mistress of King Edward VII. As the Prince of Wales he was reportedly a regular visitor to the Estate, travelling from London on the train to Easton Lodge railway station. The initials “CW” are visible on a number of Victorian era properties in Great Dunmow. Known as Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick she was a generous philanthropist in the local community.

The town’s history is explained in the Maltings Museum on Mill Lane.

A Roman small town developed on the junction between Stane Street and the Roman roads which ran north-east to south-west from Sudbury to London and north-west to southeast from Cambridge to Chelmsford. The main settlement area spread westwards from the road junction, with cemeteries on the outskirts. There was a second Roman settlement at Church End immediately to the north of present day Great Dunmow. The site likely included a rural Roman Temple.

Between the occupation by the Romans and the time of the Saxons, the town acquired its name – in AD951 it was named Dunemowe, and later Dommawe. In the Domesday Book, Dunmow had seven manors, some of which still exist, in name at least – including Bigods, Newton Hall, Merks Hall, Minchins and Shingle Hall. The earliest record of a church in the town is in 1045, and in 1197 Geoffrey de Dunmow was rector.

In medieval times, Dunmow was a thriving commercial centre, with market charters granted in 1253 and two fairs held annually until the 19th century. Dunmow’s Corporation was granted in 1555 and confirmed in 1590.

Both Roman settlements were reoccupied during the Saxon period, at Great Dunmow in the seventh century and at Church End in the later Saxon period. The earliest medieval settlement appears to have been a continuation of the late Saxon settlement at Church End, where the parish church is located. The granting of a market charter may mark the time of the movement of the main focus of settlement from Church End to the High Street and market-place. The medieval and post-medieval development of Great Dunmow is reflected both in the surviving built heritage, which includes 167 Listed Buildings and the below-ground archaeology.

Great Dunmow was located on the GHQ Line, a series of defences and concrete Pillboxes built to hinder an anticipated German invasion. Many of these still remain and are clearly visible along the Chelmer Valley, one being located on the west bank of the River Chelmer in meadows behind the Dourdan Pavilion and recreation ground.

Easton Lodge became RAF Great Dunmow in World War II and for a time was home to squadrons from the US Air Force. The site of the former air field is now owned by Land Securities who hope to build a development including around 9,000 homes alongside significant supporting community, commercial and retail infrastructure, intending to call it Easton Park.

Great Dunmow is 8.3 miles from Braintree railway station (63 minutes to London Liverpool Street) to the east and 9.2 miles from Bishop’s Stortford railway station (45 minutes to London Liverpool Street & 35 to Tottenham Hale) to the west. Until 1952 the town was served by the Bishop’s Stortford-Braintree Branch Line a line between these stations, which opened to passengers on February 22, 1869 and closed on March 3, 1952. The line continued in use for freight trains and occasional excursions, closing in stages with the final section to Easton Lodge closing on February 17, 1972. It is now possible to walk or cycle to in either direction along the former track bed to Braintree Station, or to the edge of Bishop’s Stortford.

As the crow-flies it is just under 6 miles from Stansted Airport and the nearby M11 motorway to the west.

The A120 from the M11 to Braintree by-passes the town, the former route has now been re-designated the B1256.

The town is well known for its four-yearly ritual of the “Flitch Trials”, in which couples must convince a jury of six local bachelors and six local maidens that they have never wished themselves un-wed for a year and a day. If successful the couple are paraded along the High Street and receive a flitch of bacon. The last flitch trials were held in the town in the summer of 2008, with the next scheduled for 2012. The custom is ancient, and is mentioned in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Great Dunmow’s location on the cross roads of long time important east/west and north/south routes has supported a lot of pubs, inns and taverns over the centuries. Some of these still remain popular drinking and eating places today, whiles other are now private houses or used for other businesses.

Though not planned for completion until October 2015, Dunmow is also the location of a unique living art installation. Known as Talliston, this twenty-five-year project is a journey to transform a three-bedroomed, ex-council house in Essex into thirteen distinct areas in different times and spaces. Ultimately it will be a small arts venue and installation, providing an intimate venue for music, theatre, talks and hire.

Great Dunmow is twinned with Dourdan in France.

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