What more can be be said regarding our Fair weather over the last few years. Where has Lady Luck been? Certainly not shining down on us.

Last year seemed to be the Fair to end all Fairs as the heavens decided to open during the crowning ceremony. Contingency plans went into operation and although this limited the festivities and the procession, somewhat, the bands played on and those who stayed to brave the weather thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

The weather is one part of the proceedings that we cannot arrange and although provisions are made for every eventuality, unforeseen problems do occur. This is nothing new. It has been so since the Fair’s beginning in 1897 and will probably be so in the future. When children of the newly opened Grange School marched proudly to the Fair in 1906 they did so in the rain. The day started bleak and a steady downpour continued. The crowning ceremony was performed, for the first time, in the Town Hall. Until 1911 the Grangepans Queens were chosen from the senior pupils of Carriden School, the first Grange being a school for infants.

The new Grange School included a senior’s department and provided catering and laundry courses for the girls and woodwork classes for the boys. The Queen and her courtiers were then chosen from the ranks of these pupils.

The Grangers were innovators in many ways and instigated changes in different aspects of the Fair. Queen Margaret Henderson introduced a new type of turreted arch in 1951. This spanned Phipingstone Road and caused great interest in the town. Previously arches had always been constructed of boxwood. Although the fresh greenery was very effective, the work of gathering and building had to be left to the last minute, indeed the Fair morning itself, to ensure its freshness. This had its obvious problems.

A true Fair stalwart, Grange Headmaster Alex Ritchie cherished the event and worked tirelessly to keep the tradition alive. Alex’s first major role in the proceedings was in his primary years when he himself was chosen as a presentee. The theme was ” Babes in the Woods ” and he was enthused by the cheering crowds as he walked in the procession. While a pupil at the Academy he was once more involved as Lord in Waiting to Queen Katherine Snedden.

After graduating as a teacher, Alex’s first position was on the staff of the Grange, in 1929, just in time for the Fair. Over the years his own personal stamp was put on the proceedings and paved the way for other schools to follow.

He was keen that as many pupils as possible could enjoy the thrill of taking part so he increased the number of presentees to what it is today. Then, just as Disney did with Pinnochio, Alex animated the characters of the presentees and breathed new life into the crowning ceremony. His first razamataz group were the, ” black and White Minstrels ” Bo’ness branch, who proved so popular on the Fair Day, that they were in great demand at local events throughout the following year.

Since then it has been the usual practice for the Grange School presentees to dance their way round the procession route, entertaining the crowds. Other Fair Stalwarts, May Smellie, a never tiring fundraiser, and Maureen Simpson, dress up, build their own floats and have indeed become part of the tradition. Maureen, now living in the Orkney Isles joins the tide of ex-Bo’nessians who flooded in for the Fair each year.

Alex, keen to involve his whole school decorated the Grange frontage on the theme of the presentees. Parents, teachers, children, all helped to transform the school into a floodlight fairyland.

Another Grange tradition is the gallery framed photographs of all their Queens. This was instigated by Archibald Buchanan who had been champion in 1911 to Queen Ina Ritchie ( the Grange’s first Queen ). He invested a sum of money to ensure that a complete record of the Queen’s would be kept.

This loyalty to their old school seems to be a common factor with the Grangers, according to the present headmistress Mrs Sheila McKechnie. She enthuses at the number of ex-Grange students returning to offer their services. Many come back to talk to the children of their lives and times in the district. All are willing to give of their time and themselves. Nothing is too much trouble for their old school or their Fair.

Once more, in 1991, the Grangers may have surprises in store for their special day. We wish them all success and have every faith that when, this year, we sing ” See the Summer Sun is Shining ” that it will be just so.

VALERIE McKAY

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