Great Dunmow


Welcome to Great Dunmow


Dunmow Town Hall in the 1890s

Great Dunmow is a thriving market town situated in the Chelmer valley, approximately midway between Bishop’s Stortford and Braintree, on Stane Street, the old Roman road. Dunmow’s foundation is lost in the mists of time, but it is clear that there was a settlement here upon the arrival of the Romans. Numerous Roman remains have been unearthed during building work around the town, some of which can be seen in the local museum, housed in a beautifully restored malting in the town centre. 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 – Bigods, Newton Hall, Merks 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. During the Reformation, two Dunmow residents were martyred for their faith – Thomas Bowyer, whose name is commemorated on the bridge on the Dunmow-Thaxted road, and Ann Line who was recently sainted, and after whom the local Catholic church is named


Through the ages, Dunmow has had a number of influential citizens. These include Lionel Lukin, inventor of the unsinkable lifeboat, and Sir George Howland Beaumont, founder of The National Gallery.

The Doctor’s Pond, where Lionel Lukin tested his lifeboats

Great Dunmow (or in earlier days, Little Dunmow) is famous throughout the country for its tradition of the Dunmow Flitch. This custom was well-known in the 14th century, as it was mentioned in the poem ‘Piers Ploughman’ and in Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’. The custom was revived in 1751 and again in 1855 by Harrison Ainsworth, and trials are still held in the town every four years

The oath-taking ceremony during the Flitch trials

The railway network reached Dunmow in 1864 and the service lasted for a century, passenger trains being withdrawn in 1952 and freight services in the mid 1960s. The trackbed now forms one of the area’s major long distance footpaths, the Flitch Way.

Dunmow station in the 1960s

Today, Dunmow is a busy shopping centre,bypassed by the new A120 trunk road, but still preserving much of its historic character with its open spaces, listed buildings, varied shops and ancient traditions.


Austin Reeve

Dunmow Local History Recorder