The Warwick Mop Fair: A Time-Honoured Tradition
The Warwick Mop Fair has been an integral part of Warwick’s rich history for nearly seven centuries. Its roots trace back to a time when King Edward III granted a legal charter, designating the town centre as the venue for this lively and distinctive event. Back then, the stone version of Warwick Castle was still under construction, and Lord Leycester was yet to make his mark, let alone an established hospital. Notably, many significant towns in the area, including Stratford upon Avon, Southam, Banbury, Tewksbury, Alcester, Evesham, and Abingdon, have similar charters, and they too host vibrant fairgrounds in their town centres and surrounding streets.
The Warwick Mop Fair unfolds annually on the Friday and Saturday following the 12th day of October. The subsequent Friday and Saturday witness the “Runaway Mop.” This date, the 12th, plays a pivotal role in determining when many local mop fairs take place and is believed to be historically tied to the completion of the harvest.
In its early days, the Mop Fair primarily served as a hiring fair, bringing together local laborers and employers in a convivial atmosphere. Workers would be hired for a trial period of a week, hence the Runaway Mop the following weekend, allowing either party to withdraw from the arrangement if dissatisfied. After the formalities were concluded, laborers would use their token wages, provided by their new employers, to enjoy the stalls set up for the occasion or visit the local pubs.
The term ‘Mop’ has been a subject of debate among historians. The most plausible explanation is that laborers wore symbols, almost like badges, to denote their trade, allowing employers to readily identify those seeking work in their industry. These symbols were commonly referred to as ‘mops.’
Over the years, the tradition of the pig roast, or formerly, the ox roast, has continued. This not only provided food for the fairgoers but also a warm fire on a cold winter’s evening. Today, the pig roast remains an integral part of the Mop, contributing to fundraising efforts for the Mayor’s charity. The first slice of meat is auctioned, involving Councillors, Showmen, and local residents bidding on the meat. Often, it is re-auctioned multiple times to maximize the charity donation. The remaining portions are sold in batches, accompanied by apple sauce and crackling – a truly delectable treat.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, rides became an increasingly prominent feature of Mop fairs across the Midlands. These ranged from primitive rides operated by hand to steam-powered, electrically-lit roundabouts, and eventually the high-tech, state-of-the-art rides we see today. A unique aspect of the Mop is its ability to adapt to modern life while preserving the traditional values of family entertainment, appealing to both children and grandparents.
The fairgrounds are allocated to showmen, with pitches passed down through generations, fostering a close-knit relationship between the showmen and the town. The great grandparents and grandparents of today’s show people would have entertained the great grandparents and grandparents of local residents. Archive photographs from the Mop’s history reveal striking similarities in layout to those from the early 20th century.
The Mop’s grand opening is a spectacle in itself, taking place at noon on the first Saturday. The Town Mayor, adorned in traditional attire, kicks off the festivities, joined by the Town Crier and council representatives. The Mop Charter is read aloud, and the Mayor embarks on a tour of the fair, granting free rides to those present. It’s an event worth witnessing.
The Warwick Mop is arguably the town’s oldest tradition, predating even the Saturday market and stretching back centuries before the Victorian Evening and Warwick Folk Festival. Over the years, it has brought joy and amusement to countless Warwick residents and visitors from far and wide. Local shops used to extend their hours into the evening, offering special Mop promotions to cater to the influx of customers the event attracted. The Mop is an event that appeals to all generations, from young children experiencing the fair for the first time to grandparents savouring candy floss.
This year, consider making the Warwick Mop the highlight of your family’s calendar and immerse yourselves in Warwick’s heritage. To sweeten the deal, be on the lookout for money-off vouchers from local shops displaying our posters. The Warwick Mop Fair is a celebration of tradition, community, and fun that promises cherished memories for all who attend.