Home for many years to the Levett family of Lichfield, Wychnor Hall is also home to an unusual marital custom that began in the reign of Edward III. A couple, still happily married after a year and a day, could go to the hall, accompanied by some neighbours, who were prepared to testify to their marital bliss.
After the husband had sworn under oath that he ‘would not have changed for none other, farer ne fowler, richer ne powrer, ne for none other descended of gretter lynage, slepyng ne waking, at noo tyme; and if the seid X were sole, and I sole, I wolde take her to be my wife before all the wymen of the worlde, of what condytions soevere they be, good or evyle, as helpe me God, and his seyntys, and this flesh, and all fleshes’, the couple were presented with a flitch of bacon (which I understand is half a pig).
Apparently, the records show that only three couples were ever awarded the bacon. The first couple argued so much over it on the way out, they had to give it striaght back! The second couple hadn’t seen each other since their wedding day, as the husband was a seaman. It’s said that the third couple were ‘a good-natured man and his dumb wife’.Thomas Pennant writing in the 1780s noted that ‘the flitch has remained untouched, from the first century of its institution to the present: and we are credibly informed, that the late and present worthy owners of the manor were deterred from entering into the holy state, through the dread of not obtaining a single rasher from their own bacon’. However, in Horace Walpole’s letter to the Countess of Aylesbury, on Aug. 23, 1760 he states that ‘it is thirty years since the flitch was claimed’.
According to The Spectator in 1714, one hungry couple applied soon after their honeymoon. However, it was deemed that insufficient time since their marriage had elapsed and they were sent away with just one rasher of bacon for their troubles. I’m assuming things went a bit wrong for them, as they didn’t return to claim the full flitch.
By the second half of the 18th century, the flitch was symbolic – a picture carved into the wood above the fireplace, in the main hall. Apparently it still hangs there, as can be seen on this photo, found on ladyJake’s Flickr photostream, which she has kindly given me permission to use here.
So, if they are still in happily in lurve in around a year’s time, perhaps Kate and Will should consider having a second honeymoon in Wychnor and we could revive the tradition for them!
A Survey of Staffordshire, containing the antiquities of that county by Sampson Erdeswick
The Spectator 1714
Thomas Pennant’s Journey from Chester to London (from Vision of Britain website)