The pandemic may have cancelled the Mop Fairs but the spirit of the Fairs is alive and well in Marlborough. Today, Saturday October 10, would have been the first of Marlborough’s two Mop Fairs. At midday, the Town Crier delivered the traditional proclamation from the steps of the Town Hall thus maintaining the statute and absolute right for there to be a fair in Marlborough High Street – a right governed by the Fairs and Markets Act of 1847.
Marlborough’s Mayor, Cllr. Mark Cooper, said, “Although the Mop Fair is not physically here its spirit is in all of us. We all love the Fair and cannot wait for it to be back in 2021 bigger and better than ever. “
Also present were Tommy Charles and Robert Kefford, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Showman’s Guild’s Western Section, Charles Cole and Marlborough Mops Steward, Billy Whitelegg and his family. They watched the one attraction brought along – a ‘strike’ machine – tested out by the Mayor himself!
After the traditional opening, a plaque was unveiled at the Kingsbury Street entrance to the Town Hall, commemorating Billy Whitelegg’s 70-year association with Marlborough’s Mop Fairs. He was presented with a Marlborough ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in honour of this association and the support the Showmen’s Guild has given to local charities over many years. Billy Whitelegg and his wife, Louise, come from a long line of showmen spanning generations and both have a strong commitment to Marlborough and its annual Mops.
Unveiling the plaque, Mayor Mark Cooper, said, “It’s so disappointing not to be enjoying all the fun of the fair in 2020. Growing up in the town, the Mops were the highlight of my year. Today though, we are taking the opportunity to honour the man who has brought a lifetime of joy to children, their parents and grandparents over many, many years. We are, of course, all looking forward to continuing our warm relationship with the Showmen’s Guild and the 2021 Mops.”
This is the first year that the Mop Fair has been cancelled since WW2. The decision had to be taken to cancel the Fairs, run by the Western Section of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, in line with the view of Public Health Wiltshire that they could not take place due to the current health crisis. So, regrettably, the Town Council and the Guild have had to postpone the fairs to October 2021.
Whilst thousands will miss out on the thrill that these fairs bring to Marlborough, it also means that showmen’s livelihoods suffer as fairs up and down the country are cancelled in the grip of this ferocious pandemic. Covid restrictions are having a tremendous impact on all of their futures.