The Showmen' Guild of Great Britain
Showmen's Guild
The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, Midland Section
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Fairs in the Midland Section

The five historical counties that form the Midland Section contain a wealth of fairs, both large and small. The season begins with Lichfield Shrovetide Fair, a fair held in the city’s market place since the 14th century. Because its date is linked to that of Easter, this fair can take place as early as the first week in February.

Lichfield Shrovetide Fair
Lichfield Shrovetide Fair

Ludlow May Fair, celebrated in verse by the Bromsgrove poet AE Housman and held in the town centre, marks the start of the busy period of May fairs along the Marches. Later that month the amusements return to Lichfield to support the historic Greenhill Bower celebrations. On the same day, a fair can be found as part of the well-dressing ceremonies in the north Staffordshire village of Endon. Carnival comes to the Shropshire town of Shifnal in June, with fairground amusements lining the main street.

Ludlow May Fair
Walsall Town Show

July and August – the months of holidays and harvest – represent a traditionally quiet time in the Midland fairground calendar. The autumn, however, is a period of intense activity. Most of the fairs in this period – around Michaelmas – were begun as statute or hiring fairs. In the southern half of the Section these fairs are known as Mops, a name derived from the little emblems of their trade – or ‘mops’ – worn by the farmworkers seeking a new job at the fair. The first to be held, however, is ‘The Statutes’ at the Leicestershire town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Within a week or two Burton Statutes is held. This is followed in quick succession by the Mops at Kings Norton, Alcester, Evesham and – most famously of all – at Stratford-upon-Avon. Then come the Mops at Warwick and Southam, with the Runaway Mop at Stratford at the end of October. All of these events take place in the streets, their original homes. Indeed, there are more street fairs in the area of the Midland Section than any other part of the country.

Stratford Mop

The November Pleasure Fair in the town centre of Loughborough, which dates back to the 13th century, is nationally regarded as marking the end of the fairground season. Some showmen, however, may go on to the more recently established fairs that have been created to stimulate trade in town centres in the approach to Christmas. There are several such events in the Midland Section’s area, including Hinckley Tin Hat Fair and Worcester Christmas Fair. The former was initiated by the local borough council in partnership with the Midland Section, a successful working arrangement that continues still. Fairground amusements form an integral part of Birmingham’s highly successful German-style market, held just before Christmas and now larger than most of the continental markets that inspired it.

Loughborough November Pleasure Fair
Loughborough November Pleasure Fair

Hickley Tin Hat Fair Poster

Some fairs may be held only once. In 1964, the Midland Section presented the ‘Old Time & Modern Fair’ at Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the national festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. That gathering was to be the start of a renewed interest in the rides from the age of steam, and helped ensure their preservation. 32 years later, in 1996, the Midland Section was invited to present a similar fair at Stratford to mark the 800th anniversary of the charters that established it as a market town.

Birmingham Christmas Market
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market