Held on the 11th and 12th October each year, the Stratford Mop Fair is a tradition that can be traced back hundreds of years. On this day, the streets in the town centre are closed to traffic, and filled with funfair rides, stalls and tents.
By custom, the fair is opened by the mayor who holds a pig or ox roast before the opening. The mayor is then led around the fair by the master of the mop, and the mayor chooses a ride to go on. On the first morning of the fair (the charity mop), local children can enjoy the rides free of charge. The main mop is held on the second day. A week later a smaller fair called the Runaway Mop is held.
History of the Stratford Mop Fair
The Stratford Mop was first granted a royal charter by Edward V1 in 1544 with further charters by James I and Charles II in 1611 and 1676 respectively. The 1676 charter provided for mops or fairs to be held “...within and through all places Streets Lanes Alleys and Fields in the said Borough (Stratford upon Avon)”.
Mop fairs were originally fairs where workers hired themselves out to employers for the next 12 months. The workers would indicate their skill by carrying or wearing an item – a shepherd would carry his crook or a lock of wool; a labourer would carry a piece of plaited hay; waggoners wore whipcord in their hats, and maidservants would have mops or brooms. Once hired, a worker would remove the item and wear bright ribbons instead. Those who were offered a job would be paid a retainer which they would spend on food, drink and games at the fair.
The Runaway Mop was held the following week for employers who found they had made a poor choice of employees. It gave them the opportunity to re-hire staff.