zaterdag, oktober 11, 2003

Stratford Mop Fair

Despite the exhaustive research of picking through the locals for an answer, it was only via the internet where I've finally come across a lucid explanation of what this weekend's Mop Fair in Stratford-upon-Avon is all about.

I'm not even sure why I bothered, considering that The Stratford Herald proclaimed in bold headlines this week that Stratford Demoted to a 'Third Rate Tourist Town'.

To the untrained eye, it looks a little like chaos. The main streets through town are all blocked off, carneys appear out of nowhere, rides, food and kiddies. But its on everyone's lips as in, are you going, have you gone, etc...

So, relying on my own handy servant, the internet, here is the explanation I've long been looking for:

However, ‘Mop Fairs’, which were held twice a year and it was here that servants were hired. Groups of servants, dressed in their best clothes, walked to the fair where they stood in rows waiting to be picked out.

The mop fair tradition goes back centuries and stems from hiring fairs, where farmers, tradesmen and householders gathered to employ their servants for the coming year. very word 'fair' coming from the Latin for holiday, 'feria'

It was customary for those looking for work to display an item which showed their trade. Waggoners wore whipcord in their hats, a knot of horse hair indicated a groom, while more lowly workers wore a piece of mop, which is where the mop fair name comes from...Mop fairs where servants were ritually bought and sold to the present day, where fairs are based purely on entertainment rather than trade.

If you were chosen for a job, you were given cash as a retainer which was usually spent at the fair on sideshows, food and drink and having a good time.

In Stratford, which is home to one of the country's biggest fairs, the mop became a funfair after World War I. This was also when the custom developed of the mayor holding a pig or ox roast before the opening of the fair.

The custom remains today and with typical Stratford pomp on civic occasions, the mayor reads the mop proclamation and the master of the mop leads the mayor around the fair before the mayor selects a ride to go on.

On the first morning of the fair, which is almost always 12 October, children of the town enjoy the rides free of charge.

Charity is also a huge part of the mop. The first slice of meat from the pig roast is auctioned, which often raises hundreds of pounds.

The fair operator and master of the mop, William Wilson of Bob Wilson Funfairs, also makes a contribution from the takings on charity night, which is traditionally the first night of the fair.

Anyway, as a precursor to the big England-Turkey match today, I'll be having a look at the Mop Fair, snap some shots, step on a few toes and see what the fun is all about.

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