Mop weddings, or mop marriages, were once a traditional marriage method in parts of the British Isles. It is presumed that, like the earliest mop fairs where they were celebrated, they date back to the 13th or 14th century, though it is possible that the tradition originated in pagan practices.
Evidence from the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suggests that domestic servants, when they had reached marriageable age, would meet and court at successive mop fairs and, if they then chose to marry, would subsequently pay some local personage in a position of authority, such as the local magistrate, to preside over their common-law wedding in a public venue such as the market-place or the market-cross. The couple would exchange vows before each took hold of one end of a household mop to indicate that they took each other in marriage. Such a couple might then be referred to as having married 'over the mop'. It has been suggested that, in a practice analogous to jumping backwards over a broomstick in order to end a Welsh broomstick wedding, a couple married in a mop wedding could subsequently divorce one another by publicly letting go of a mop and renouncing their vows.
The practice of mop weddings was ended by the Clandestine Marriages Act 1753, which put marriage on a statutory basis for the first time in England and Wales, although the tradition endured in Scotland and has more recently been included as an element in neo-pagan marriage ceremonies.
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