A piece of bacon awarded at Lent in Dunmow is first mentioned by Chaucer in The Wife of Bath's Prologue: The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe [trans: not fetched for them]/That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
The story is that if a married couple came to the prior of Dunmow and could honestly swear the following oath, the prior would give them a gammon of flitch of bacon.
You shall swear by the Custom of our Confession,
That you never made any Nuptial Transgression
Since you were marri'd Man & Wife
By Household Brawls or Contentious Strife
Or otherwise in Bed or at Board
Offended each other in Deed or in Word
Or since the Parish Clerk said Amen
Wish'd yourselves unmarri'd agen
Or in a Twelve Moneth & a day
Repented not in thought any way
But Continued true & in desire
As when you join'd hands in Holy Quire
If to these Conditions without all fear
Of your own Accord you will freely Swear
A Gammon of Bacon you shall receive
And bear it hence with Love & good Leave
For this is our Custom at Dunmow well known
Though the Sport be ours, the Bacon's your own.
An American visitor made this report in 1776: "The words of this place mention no less than three Matrimonial Heroes who in the Space of a hundred Years laid Claim and carried off the Prize. Tradition says several hundreds did intend to get possession of it, but disqualified themselves by some acdt in the preparation. One good Man whose wife was coning with him took it into head that She knew the way better than her husband, which brought on such a Contention, as did permit their [i.e. Dunmow]] saving their bacon."
[source: The Oxford Book of the Year]