The Warwick Mop returns to Warwick this coming weekend, with the runaway mop the following weekend on October 25 and 26.
We thought it would be nice to have a look back at the history of the mop and how it came about. (With thanks to the mop website for info!)
Warwick Mop Fair began when King Edward III granted a legal charter that it be held in the town centre, at a time when the stone version of the castle was being built and before Lord Leycester was even born let alone building hospitals. Many significant towns in the area also have similar charters including Stratford upon Avon, Southam, Banbury, Tewksbury, Alcester, Evesham, Abingdon and so on. Each year these towns have fairground attractions in their town centres and surrounding streets.
General view of Warwick Mop in Market Place in the 1920s
Warwick Mop is held every year on the Friday and Saturday following the 12th day of October, with the ‘Runaway Mop’ held the following Friday and Saturday. The dates this year are the 18th/19th and the 25/26th October, the latest possible dates due to the 12th falling on a Friday. The 12th is the date for calculating when many of the local mop fairs happen. It is believed to be linked to a date the harvesting was completed, in olden days. Stratford’s Mop is held on the 12th, Southam the Monday after the 12th and so on.
When the Mop first started nearly 700 years ago the event was a hiring fair for local labourers and employers to meet in a social setting. Workers would be hired for a trial period of a week; hence the Runaway Mop the following weekend allowing either party to back out if they were unhappy with the arrangement. Once the formalities were over, the labourers could spend their token wage (given by the new employers) at the stalls gathered for the occasion or the local pubs!
The title ‘Mop’ has been a subject of debate by historians for a number of years. The most likely link is that labourers wore a symbol (a badge almost) to identify their trade. This meant employers would instantly recognise those wanting work in their industry. These symbols were believed to have been known as mops.
The Brewer family’s juvenile ride in Brook Street in 1958, this ride can now be seen at Warwick’s Victorian Evening with its current owner.
The pig roast, or ox roast as it used to be, provided food for the visiting crowds and a nice fire to warm by on a cold winter’s evening. Today the pig roast remains and is one of a number of ways the Mop fairs raise money for the Mayor’s charity. The first slice of meat is auctioned, Councillors, Showmen and residents of Warwick bid on the meat, which is often re-auctioned a number of times to increase the charity donation made. Then the rest is sold in batches with apple sauce and crackling, great!
As the industrial revolution came along rides became a feature of the Mops around the Midlands. From primitive beginnings peddled by the riders themselves, to steam-powered, electrically-lit roundabouts and on to the high tech, state of the art rides of today. One of the Mop’s unique features is how it constantly adapts in line with modern life yet still retains the traditional value of entertainment for the whole family, from children to grand parents.
Showmen at the fair have allotted pitches on which their rides and stalls are built up; these are passed through generations resulting in a close link between the showmen and the town. The grand parents and great grand parents of today’s show people will have been entertaining the grand parents and great grandparents of local residents. Archive photographs of the Mop reveal just how similar the layout remains today to those held early last century.
Warwick Mop in 1966 taken from the building site of what is now the Antiques Centre.
The streets close in the afternoon of the Thursday preceding each fair to allow the rides and attractions to be set up safely. The main rides are brought into the market square and parked at 4pm to minimise disruption to rush hour traffic. The build up of the rides then takes place from 6pm to minimise disruption to shop keepers.
Health and Safety is a top priority in the smooth running of the Mop fairs. The Fire Brigade are consulted to ensure suitable access and measures are in place should they be required. The Police ensure the smooth arrival of the rides in the town and patrol the event during opening hours. All the rides carry full public liability insurance and risk assessments are carried out. Sound levels are monitored to ensure acceptable levels are maintained. Where possible power leads are raised above head height (however please use common sense where this is not possible). To limit pollution only essential generators are used and where practical these will power more than one attraction to reduce the number needed.
The car park on the race course, where the show families living vans are kept during the mops, has a section fenced off so that it can still be used for parking by the public if they wish. The showmen pay for the use of this car park although they don’t feed it into the parking meters coin at a time!!
Traditional opening ceremony of the 2012 Mop
The Town Mayor officially opens the Mop at 12 noon on the first Saturday supported by the Town Crier and representatives of the council in their traditional attire. The Mop Charter is read aloud and then the mayor takes a tour of the fair granting free rides to anyone present at the time.
The showmen work through the night to remove all the rides and attractions from the town centre by about 2am on Sunday morning. Litter is picked up, removable street furniture replaced and the next day no one would know the event took place. As recently as last century the rides would remain built up (although closed) in the town for the whole week between the fairs. Today’s showmen work very hard building up and pulling down twice to minimise disruption to those working and living within the town centre.
Warwick Mop is arguably the towns oldest tradition pre-dating even the Saturday market and centuries before the Carnival, Victorian Evening and Warwick Festival. Over the years it has brought joy and amusement to thousands of Warwick residents and many from further afield. Local shops used to stay open into the evening and hold special Mop promotions to cash in on the extra customers the event attracted. The Mop is an event that can be enjoyed by all ages from young children getting their first glimpse of a fairground, to the grandparents still eating the candy floss!
Why not make this year’s Mop the one for your family to enjoy Warwick’s heritage and take advantage of all the hard work involved in organising this event.
Vintage pictures on this page reproduced with kind permission of the National Fairground Archive (Sheffield)