This minute book documents the activities of the Warwick Statute Fair Ox-Roasting Committee. The committee was a small voluntary group of men which met regularly each year between September and November to organise the ox-roasts for the Mop Fairs. Routine business included advertising, collecting subscriptions and gathering tenders from local butchers.
In 1885, Mr Frank Spencer, a butcher from West Street was successful in securing a majority of seven votes for his tender. The costs varied slightly each year. In 1893, following discussions about the amount of effort involved in roasting, a cost of £53.16.4 was recorded. This was significantly higher than other years, such as 1894, when the cost was £22.18.11. The committee did not restrict itself to business matters; there was also an opportunity for conviviality at the annual ‘Tripe Supper’ held a few weeks before The Mop.
Origins of the Mop
Hiring fairs, or Mops as they were known in the Midlands, originated from the 1531 Statute of Labourers, and Charters granted to specific towns by King Edward III. The Warwick Mop was traditionally held on the 12th of October each year. A second Mop, often referred to as the Runaway Mop took place the following Saturday. It is thought that the term ‘Mop’ arose from the fact that those attending the fair wore symbols of their trade; for example, a piece of wool for a shepherd, or some mop fabric for a maidservant. Employers could hire a worker on trial for a week.
When a person had been hired, the symbol would have been replaced by a blue ribbon. At this point, it was customary for a gratuity or ‘fasten money’ to be given to the new employee by their employer. The newly hired worker was then at liberty to enjoy the fun of the fair. Heavy drinking was often a feature of the event. If at the end of the trial week, either party was dissatisfied, they could return to the Runaway Mop, and make a new bargain. However, contracts made at the Runaway Mop were binding for one year. Over the years, the original purpose of hiring was superseded, and the Mop Fairs became primarily an occasion for entertainment.
Contemporary views of ox-roasting and the Mop
On 17 October 1885, the Warwick Advertiser reported that numbers attending the first Mop were less than in previous years. Due to previous complaints from tradesmen, there were no swinging boats. Although both Mop Fairs passed off peacefully, not everyone enjoyed the occasion. One resident, Mr Spelt, whose wife was seriously ill, wrote to the Town Council complaining that ‘the noise and so-called music’ had made her ‘most miserable’. Although the Council acknowledged his complaint, it was unable to be of assistance, as the only way to prevent the noise would have been to stop the fair. This it could not do, given the statute.
This article was October 2012’s Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office. Further articles can be found on their website.