1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hiring

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HIRING (from O. Eng hýrian, a word common to many Teutonic languages cf. Ger. heuern, Dutch huren, &c), in law, a contract by which one man grants the use of a thing to another in return for a certain price. It corresponds to the locatio-conductio of Roman law. That contract was either a letting of a thing (locatio-conductio rei) or of labour (locatio operarum). The distinguishing feature of the contract was the price. Thus the contracts of mutuum, commodatum, depositum and mandatum, which are all gratuitous contracts, become, if a price is fixed, cases of locatio-conductio. In modern English law the term can scarcely be said to be used in a strictly technical sense. The contracts which the Roman law grouped together under the head of locatio-conductio—such as those of landlord and tenant, master and servant, &c—are not in English law treated as cases of hiring but as independent varieties of contract. Neither in law books nor in ordinary discourse could a tenant farmer be said to hire his land. Hiring would generally be applied to contracts in which the services of a man or the use of a thing are engaged for a short time.

Hiring Fairs, or Statute Fairs, still held in Wales and some parts of England, were formerly an annual fixture in every important country town. These fairs served to bring together masters and servants. The men and maids seeking work stood in rows, the males together and the females together, while masters and mistresses walked down the lines and selected those who suited them. Originally these hiring-fairs were always held on Martinmas Day (11th of November). Now they are held on different dates in different towns, usually in October or November. In Cumberland the men seeking work stood with straws in their mouths. In Lincolnshire the bargain between employer and employed was closed by the giving of the “fasten-penny,” the earnest money, usually a shilling, which “fastened” the contract for a twelvemonth. Some few days after the Statute Fair it was customary to hold a second called a Mop Fair or Runaway Mop. “Mop” (from Lat. mappa, napkin, or small cloth) meant in Old English a tuft or tassel, and the fair was so called, it is suggested, in allusion to tufts or badges worn by those seeking employment. Thus the carter wore whipcord on his hat, the cowherd a tuft of cow’s hair, and so on. Another possible explanation would be to take the word “mop” in its old provincial slang sense of “a fool,” mop fair being the fools’ fair, a sort of last chance offered to those who were too dull or slovenly-looking to be hired at the statute fair. Perhaps “runaway” suggests the idea of those absent through drunkenness, or those who simply feared to face the ordeal of the larger hiring and so ran away.