A SMALL fairground ride has been erected in Stratford to honour the historical Mop Fair – postponed this year due to coronavirus.
The pandemic has put one of Stratford’s oldest traditions under serious threat – and its organisers say unless things change, it may disappear.
The fair, which has been run by Bob Wilson’s Funfairs for generations, was due to take place on the weekend of October 11 but was called off amid tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Many of the events crucial to the firm’s income, including Birmingham’s German market, have also been cancelled or postponed.
And company owner Willie Wilson feels showmen are being forgotten about.
He said: “I think showmen like us are being let down. Plenty of other industries affected by the pandemic have been given a chance – I don’t think we’re being treated fairly.
“In the summer, we were told we could get back to work again, but we’ve been unable to hold the events we know we can put on safely.
“Stratford District Council and Stratford Town Council have tried their best to help us, just like I know they’ve helped many other businesses in the area, but ultimately these new government rules mean their hands are tied.
“We’re still hopeful we can hold the Mop next year. It’s such a traditional event and it would be a great shame to lose it.”
The Mop Fair has been held in Stratford annually since the Middle Ages, after the Black Death had ravaged the local population.
People would offer their services at the fair to employers whose workforces had been decimated by the disease. They would carry equipment reflecting their skills – and the number of cleaners carrying mops earned the event its eponymous title.
Its popularity saw fairground rides and sideshows spring up before King Edward VI granted the Mop Fair a Royal Charter in 1544, eventually enshrined in statute law by The Fairs and Markets Act 1847 – meaning Stratford has the right to hold a Mop each year.
Like the small ride erected this week, during the war years, the charter was honoured by a stall or ride on a single street instead.
Willie added: “We were able to keep the charter alive by having one small ride this year. The pandemic didn’t stop us doing that at least.
“The last time the Mop was postponed was the war, and I don’t think the danger was the same this time around.
“I hope the situation improves and the government starts to see sense. If things do not get better for us, I worry about what the future might hold for the Mop.”
The Mop weekend also coincides with the launch of a campaign Future 4 Fairgrounds, formed by six show-women, who say the cancellation of mop fairs have left them ‘on their knees’.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of the impact of the cancellations on the industry, while urging local governments to reconsider their stance.
Spokeswoman Hayley Danter said: “The public don’t always understand the families who own and operate the rides and stalls each year at fairs, such as the Stratford Mop, are the same ones who have been attending for centuries.
“Our industry is unique in the way it has been handed down over the course of hundreds of years, with businesses nurtured from generation to generation. In fact, some travelling showmen families are sixth generation showmen.
“Events like the Stratford Mop aren’t just a job for us, they are our lifetime. It’s a heritage we are extremely proud of and one that we feel is not understood by many outside the industry. Future 4 Fairgrounds is doing its best to change that.”
The campaigners are planning to take the issue to Westminster. They are also urging would be fair-goers to write to their local MP.