Revive Mop Fair tradition to revitalise jobs economy
These days, in many English towns the annual week-long Mop Fair tradition began when nearly 700 years ago King Edward III granted a charter for a hiring fair where local job seekers and employers could meet in a social setting.
The title 'Mop' is given to men and women who wore a symbol or badge to identify their skill; shepherds wore a tuft of wool in their lapel, housemaids would carry a mop, artisans a wood chisel or the like, and artists a paintbrush.
These meant employers would instantly recognise the trade of those wanting work. After a short test period, new employment was binding until the next year's event.
Mop Fairs gradually developed into the farmer's wages council, then the Agricultural Wages Board, which was allowed to survive by Margaret Thatcher when other welfare schemes were scrapped.
Now, a Coalition Agriculture Minister has killed the board that once regulated essential outdoor clothing, set sick pay and graded pay progression, that is important when so many farmers have little chance of promotion.
The board set fair rents for tied housing (£28 a week for a caravan) but there will be no rent limits from now on. How sad that since the time of David Lloyd George, when farmers benefits were adopted by a Liberal government, a Liberal Democrat should end it.
Somerton & Frome's MP David Heath condemned a report in February 21's Somerset Standard, "MP's surgery besieged by farm wages board protest", saying that farmer's welfare benefits was, "a costly relic of a previous age".
Rural work does not have good pay and conditions. It is one of the most dangerous occupations with a high accident rate. Isolated, under-unionised, with little choice of other work, a third of rural workers live in tied housing, vulnerable to the whims of the state and the supermarkets.
At the same time, I understand, farmers are gradually moving from unhealthy dairy and costly sheep to arable farming, and property development as a new type of crop.
In contrast, a Coalition Communities Minister has called on farmers to identify disused farm buildings that could be converted to affordable homes for local people, and for councils to look favourably on their planning applications.
Rural workers manage thousands of acres but when they want to make new homes they face a battle with urban councils and their development plans.
I have proposed that Frome Town Council revives the tradition of a Mop Fair to revitalise the local jobs economy and face down the higher tier authorities and their make-it-up-as-we-go-along attitudes.
Frome is a rural market town serving its surrounding hinterland with a regional farmers centre at Standerwick, that Mendip and Somerset councils have abandoned the community sense of a Royal Charter Market.
Frome is also an artists' and artisans' town with a fabulous idea: The Super Street Markets, which added to a Mop Fair is a way for creative job seekers to obtain a year-long patronage.
The chairman of Mendip District Council, Conservative Ron Forrest, and the Independent Mayor of Frome, would like to see a return of traditional events, and I would like to see politics taken out of local government because councillors are elected to represent all the people and not just their own party colour.
Dear reader, if you agree I can take your comments to the Mendip Planning Board, where I will ask for appropriate policies for a Mop Fair, and how to manage crops of houses in green fields. Please email me on Adrian@Dobinson.info.
Frome town and Mendip district councillor for Berkley Down