An annual event in Warwick, Stratford upon Avon and some Warwickshire villages was ‘The Mop’ (Mop Fair) a fair which takes place in October and was originally a hiring fair, a face to face recruitment meeting in modern parlance, where people seeking work and those seeking to hire workers would come together. To save time and avoid misunderstanding workers wanting to be hired would hold an item that denoted their trade or skill, thus a farm worker may hold a pitchfork and a cleaner or domestic servant a mop – hence mop fair. Two weeks after the first fair there would be another termed ‘The Runaway Mop’ the title deriving from the time of the hiring fair and the reason for the second fair was to allow workers who didn’t get on with their first employer to seek a new one, hence runaway. I suppose those unlucky a second time would have to stick it out for the year or find employment by other means.
The Mop Fair of the 1950s
By the time I went to the mop if was purely a fun fair, any connection with hiring workers long since ceased. The ‘mop’ took place as no doubt it still does in the centre of Warwick; Market Place, Market Street, Old Square, New Street, Brook Street, Swan Street and Church Street. [As it] caused a lot of disruption, both to traders and visitors, various attempts over the years to get the fair moved from the centre failed, mainly I believe because it was granted by Royal Charter and also there were enough influential traditionalists to sway the argument.
When I was at school and went into Warwick on a Saturday when the Mop was on my father would let me have a go on some of the rides and attractions. The fair would be opened at noon by the Mayor who would then ride on one of the attractions – very often the dodgems – and the public would be allowed on without a charge, on at least one mop I was allowed to ride for free.
The ox roast
A feature of the Mop (only the first one I’m sure) was the ox roast, where a beast was roasted on a spit above an open fire, usually in the corner of the square nearest to Abbotsford House. The Mayor would auction off ‘the first slice’ for charity, and prominent citizens would vie to buy this, very often putting it back into the auction so that others could buy it and contribute to charity, the name of the buyer(s) being called out by the Mayor, adding more prestige to their standing. ‘The first slice’ being sold and resold several times was not unusual. As I got older I would go to the mop at night, very often on the same day as I had been in the morning.
This article is an abridged section from the memoir Four Gallons of Petrol and a Pint of Oil. The full version can be seen at Warwickshire County Record Office, reference B.HAS.Bol(P)