The term “Mops” is a local area name for the Statute hiring fairs which became established as a result of the Black Death, and subsequent Statute of Labourers of 1351. This sought to control the wages, and conditions of employment, of the agricultural labours and associated occupations. A Statute fair could be held at any town that had local Justices who were empowered to set an annual local wage. Statute fairs were more casually organised than the Charter fairs, and did not necessarily pay any rental to the town. The Mops at Tewkesbury were held on the Wednesdays of the week preceding, and following, that in which the Michaelmas Fair was held. Persons offering themselves for hire would gather in the centre of the Town and would wear or hold a symbol of their trade and await their fate. The Mops continued in this fashion until 1870, when the hiring of female servants was transferred to the Town Hall on the actual fair day. By 1890 the hiring of labour in this manner was virtually extinct, and ceased as a calendar event when the fair was suspended during the First World War.
It is not known for certain when fairs were first held in Tewkesbury. Local folklore suggests that it was in Norman times, but an alternative source implies that it could have been as early as the Saxon period. It is however quite certain that King John held a large fair here in 1199 AD.
All fairs were owned by the reigning king, or Queen, who from time-to-time would grant, or even sell, the rights to hold a fair to a person, or town, then in favour.
In 1324, Edward II granted an annual fair to be held in the town in June, to the Lord of Tewkesbury, with further grants following in 1441 AD. All of these fairs were confirmed in the Charter of Elizabeth I in 1574, which also granted an additional fair. Further charters followed, until in 1790 the town was entitled to a total of seven annual fairs, each of two days duration.
The present fair is the sole survivor of these, and was granted by the Charter of James I in 1609, which required “that a fair shall be held on the feast of Saint Michael in September”. The Michaelmas fair continued on this day until 1752, when the country changed to the Gregorian calendar, forcing the fair to become re-established on October 10th. The fair is now held under a Charter granted by Elizabeth II.
Always located at the Cross,in the centre of Town the Mop fair was an important trading occasion, but always contained “elements of amusement”. By the 1850’s, shooting galleries and dancing girl shows were becoming popular attractions, with the first roundabouts appearing in the late 1860’s. In 1875 the agricultural portion of the traders decided to part from the fair, leaving the commodity traders in the High Street and with the showmen established in Barton Street and Church Street. The fair continued in this manner until 1947, when the traders lost their positions because of the heavily increased traffic in the High Street.
The showmen were to lose their positions in the Crescent and lower Church Street for similar reasons in 1952, but had by then expanded into East Street and the Oldbury. Further enlargement came in 1956 with a tentative move onto the Spring Gardens site, and the following years saw further expansion here until the ground became completely filled with attractions.
In 1974 control of the fair passed from the local Borough Council, to the new very much enlarged District Council, who, in 1981, leased the organisation of the fair to the Western Section of the Showmen’s Guild, and to W.G. Danter and Sons. Under their combined guidance the fair continues to strengthen its position, and is today one of the largest and best known street fairs in the country and a credit to the town.
Recently the running of the fair has been taken over from the Western Section of the Showmen’s Guild by James Danter from Gloucester.