HOW MANY times have you heard it said that if you are not Bo’ness born and bred, no matter how long you have lived in the town, you are not really accepted as a Bo’nessian?

That may well have been the case in my younger days, but I think that throughout the years attitudes have changed and incomers are now taking their part in a variety of activities and are making their mark in a number of organisations throughout the town and hopefully our combined efforts will benefit the community as a whole.

Bo’ness having been a bustling little seaport many years ago, had connections with mining, woodyards, potteries, iron founders and various other little industries, which made sure there was work aplenty for locals and incomers alike. Many people from surrounding areas therefore moved with their families and settled in Bo’ness, making the town their new home and getting themselves involved with the many local activities.

Sadly most of our industrial connections have now gone and many locals have to commute to work in Grangemouth, Falkirk, Edinburgh and other outlying areas to support their families.

Nevertheless, the changes in those areas have not affected the staunch pride in our little community and the traditions that Bo’ness people hold so dear.

How many other small towns like Bo’ness can boast the fact that they support, not one, but two contesting Brass Bands along with their own Salvation Army Citadel Band, have a junior football team of some note, and various organisations throughout the town, nearly all dependent on public donations to keep things ticking over.

When it comes to collecting funds to keep our organisations ongoing, the generosity of Bo’ness people at large is something we can be proud of. I believe our other claim to fame, is our own unique Bo’ness Fair Day, when all the schoolchildren come together to put on a spectacle of colour, song and dance, that most Bo’nessians consider to be the event of the year.

In my own particular case The Fair conjures up many happy memories, especially one, some 40 years ago, when I myself became Queen Elect in 1953 from St. Mary’s School.

That eventful morning in school it was announced that Helen Gourlay had been selected to be that year’s Queen.

I could scarcely wait to get home to tell my parents the news, before some kindly soul with good intentions would get there first.

I eventually got home and proudly announced to my parents ! I’ve to be the Queen ” then hopefully waited for their consent. Of course consent was given readily and so began one of the most exciting tears of my life.

Mum, Dad, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts and Uncles, along with many friends rallied round to make sure that this would be a day that I would remember for the rest of my life. Everyone concerned worked in a flurry of harmony and excitement in those months leading up to the big day. Plans were laid for the building of the ” Queen’s Arch “, evergreens to be collected, bunting and flags to be made ready, most importantly material to be picked to make a dress, that would hopefully make me quite regal when the day came that I would be crowned Queen of Bo’ness.

I remember well the weeks leading up to ” Fair Day “, the weather was not at all kind and even on ” Fair E’en ” as the arch builders worked throughout the night to ensure that the Queen’s arch would be ready for the judging, the rain hardly let up but this did not deter them in their task.

Even on the ” Fair Day ” morning the rain still fell as I was awakened by the sound of Bo’ness & Carriden Band, as they played the stirring marches associated with the ” Fair ” Morag’s Faery Glen, The March of the Cameron Men, The Rowan Tree and many more.

The weather eventually began to brighten, but it had been decided to postpone the crowning ceremony from the traditional time of 11 o’clock until midday. The school children were all kept waiting at their own particular school until it was deemed time to make their way to Glebe Park.

I took my place on the throne, surrounded by my retinue, to the cheers of all the children from the various schools and the huge crowd of spectators that had gathered in Glebe Park.

Under the baton of Mr Jimmy Cuthill, the band played and the children sang ” Our Festal Day “, my champion Sam Goodwin threw down his challenge.

” If anyone here shall deny the Queen’s title to the throne, I am here ready to defend it in single combat. ”

My day had truly begun.

On the stroke of 12, with the sun shining brightly, I was crowned Queen by Mrs J. Calder.

Once again the band struck up ” Hail to our Queen “. My heart filled with pride as my courtiers, all resplendent in their colourful dresses and costumes joined in with the crowd singing to their new crowned Queen.

Also on my mind at that time was that my ” wee ” sister Margaret was one of my flower girls, so it was a special occasion indeed for the Gourlay household.

The chief presentees from the schools were brought forward to pay homage to their chosen Queen. After performing their individual dance routines, it was then the turn of various groups, Scouts, Guides, Sea Cadets, Boy’s Brigade and others to present their own representatives.

The it was on to the big procession, around the town in my royal carriage, with my page boys George Morgan and Thomas Bivans by my side, through the cheering crowds that thronged the streets of Bo’ness.

On to the Academy Park, where in those days we took part in a sports day, rather than the entertainment that we have nowadays.

Unfortunately as the procession finished at the Academy Park the weather changed again for the worst and put paid to any sports that had been arranged. All the children were escorted back to their particular schools, where they were supplied with a ” bag of goodies ” and a small bottle of milk, before being taken to a matinee in the Hippodrome theatre.

Later it was on to the ” shows ” to spend what little money we had, a truly enjoyable day with a load of tired but happy ” wee souls ” trudging home at night chattering about the day’s happenings.

The years have passed very quickly since then ( oh where have they gone? ) leaving many wonderful memories of my special day, something I find myself thinking of more and more as the years go by.

Since then ” Bo’ness Fair ” has gone from strength to strength with each year bringing new challenges and new ideas to make hopefully a bigger and better festival of song, dance and happiness for the children of Bo’ness and giving a greater sense of pride in our small community. In saying this, we should think that without the co-operation of the incomers, the organisers, the schoolteachers, the parents and especially the children themselves we would not be able to have this special event.

In ending I would like to take this opportunity to wish this year’s Queen Elect Maria all the very best of health, wealth and happiness throughout her life and hope that her special day in 1993, that she be left with many wonderful memories of being crowned ” Queen of Bo’ness “.

HELEN STEVENSON

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