ON being asked to write this article for the Fair Programme. I found myself reflecting on and over a period of 44 years.
It was in the spring of 1949 that, as a young policeman. I came to Bo’ness and the family, Nettie my wife, daughter Jeanette and son Douglas, were to follow soon after.
Accommodation was at a premium and on being offered a single room by Mrs. Smith in North Street, we were happy to accept.
The town was a hive of activity it those days with Kinneil and Carriden Collieries in full production; the docks operational 24 hours a day with ships coming and going on each tide, plus several wood yards, a Fertilizer Works, a Pottery, three Hosieries, two Foundries and two ship breaking yards.
We were soon to hear and learn something of the Fair. What is this Fair all about – a sort of Gala Day perhaps? Oh no’ You risked the wrath of the locals by calling it that. The challenge meted out was ‘ just wait and see, it’s the best in the land’. Certainly, and I will concede, that as the appointed day approached, everything seemed to centre round the Fair. New dresses for the weans, new shoes, new curtains for the house, new everything. Wevlins, Douds, the Store with dividend at 4/6d in the pound, they all did a roaring trade. We were to see the town adorned with flags and bunting, and the shop fronts freshened up with a new coat of paint.
Aye, it was a busy wee town alright. With arches appearing all over the place dressed in box wood, all kinds of evergreens and brightly coloured paper flowers.
The dawn of that particular Fair Day was a new experience for us and as the day progressed with the Crowning Ceremony followed by the Procession, we realised that it was indeed, a unique spectacle and certainly worthy of all the preparation and proclaim.
I never did refer to it again as a ‘ Gala Day ‘, no, not even in a whisper.
Later on we were fortunate enough to be given the tenancy of a wee house at the back of Olivers in South Street by the late Mary Johnston. A room and kitchen with an outside toilet. Well, maybe that is not quite right, you see, the toilet was outside but inside an adjoining building. ( if you follow what I mean! ) Nevertheless, to us it was a wee Palace with the Muirs next door and the Gemmels and the Meikles up the stairs.
In 1951, daughter Jeanette was a Flower Girl from the Public School, and my neighbours were quick to tell us that I would have to build an arch. I duly obliged and built this ‘ work of art ‘ at the mouth of the close and my wife, Nettie, put the finishing touches to it in the wee small hours of that Fair Day. I honestly thought it was worthy of a prize or perhaps a commendation, but the judges must have thought otherwise!
During the Fifties, my duties on Fair Day were mainly concerned with the procession and as the photograph shows, that also involved motor cycle patrol along its length in order to minimise the gaps.
Features of the Procession in those days were many and varied. It was traditional then as it is now, that the local Inspector led the Procession and the late Jimmy Watt did just that with pride and dignity. A mounted policeman was also a feature and the late Mathie Duncan, widely known throughout West Lothian was a familiar and popular figure on his trusted steed.
The preparation and presentation of a decorated vehicle was the accepted practice of the majority of local firms and many of your readers will recall with pleasure a particular float they had helped to prepare, or, were otherwise involved with, If you had occasion to be around Borrowstoun Farm in the Fifties, you will certainly recall the Floats presented by the late Robert Pow, an ardent supporter of the Fair. There was the farm animal scene, a huge black and white bull, a swan, a reindeer scene depicting Rabbie Burns, the ploughman with horse all presented on different years.
The architect in chief was Balfour Paton assisted by Tommy Davidson, Willie Main, Alick Barnes and John Henderson, with Dod Splatt as the driver. Sadly, all these Fair Stalwarts, except for Dod, are now gone, but what pleasure they gave escorting their prize yoke over the Fair route.
In acknowledging that the Queen and her Retinue hold pride of place on the Fair Day, the children from all our schools are an integral part, because it is, after all, their day.
The support of our local bands has been paramount to the success of each Fair and I always did admire the personalities of yester year who marched ahead of their chosen band. There was Brucie Balderston who proudly strode ahead of Kinneil Colliery Silver Band while Bill MacLeod did the honours with Bo’ness and Carriden Band. There were others to follow and happily this practice exists right up to the present day.
In 1961, I was transferred to Bridgend and had the responsibility of Policing that village along with Philpstoun and Blackness, but in 1963 to the particular delight of my wife, we were sent back to Bo’ness and I was also given rank of Sergeant.
Our house at 14 Corbiehall was immediately adjacent to the Police Station on the east side with the late Inspector Bob Cossar, his wife Ellen and family on the west side.
Our return to Bo’ness was to mark the beginning of my happiest time in the Police Service and I have fond memories of the Cossar family as our neighbours and Bob as my Inspector, colleague and friend. This was also a time when I renewed my interest in the Fair and in consequence of rank assumed greater responsibility for its smooth operation. I was assigned control of the top gate to the Glebe Park, where the schools enter and this was my patch on succeeding years during the Sixties and early Seventies. One advantage, for sure, was the panoramic view afforded of the assembled platform and Crowning Ceremony with ten thousand loyal subjects looking on.
As the days events progressed and concluded with the Queens Revels at the Douglas Park, it was time to go home for dinner, the Fair dinner – steak pie, tatties and that. A wash up, change of socks, forty winks and then it was back to the fray.
The shows always a big attraction for the young and old alike, took up all of the old bus station right along to Avon Place and Seaview Place as well and the ‘ Jungle Ride ‘ was smack in front of the Police Office! All very well from a supervisory point of view but noise was deafening and responding to telephone calls was problem to say the least.
While a contingent of Police personnel were drafted in from all over West Lothian to assist with main events of the day, all of them were ‘ stood down ‘ by tea time and it was left to the local men after that. The Police Office, which remained open all day and late into the night, was continuously manned and all other available personnel were out on foot patrol covering the shows and town centre.
The Fair Dance in the Town Hall had to be given attention and there were other dance locations too like Kinneil Institute.
On reflection, resources were frequently stretched to the limit but how fortunate we were to have a substantial back-up force of Special Constables. At one time there were twenty six of them on the Special Roll and they willingly turned out in numbers as and when required, and yes, even on the Fair night too. The vast majority are now gone but I knew each and every one of them and place on record the valuable service they gave to the Police in general and to this community in particular.
The year 1975 marked the reorganisation of local government and in consequence of boundary changes we became part of Central Region and Falkirk District. The impact of these changes were widespread and affected each and everyone of us in so many different ways. Overnight, we were to part company with Lothian and Borders Police and assume the title of Central Scotland Police. There was an immediate relocation of staff with several officers opting to remain in the former Force and others, two Sergeants and six Constables transferring to Bo’ness from Central. For me, the choice was simple, my home was here, our friends were here, this was my adopted town and I had no desire to serve elsewhere.
On reflection, I must have made the right choice as I was soon after promoted to Inspector and given the task of overseeing our introduction to the New Force. This process preceded smoothly and for that I will always be indebted to the Divisional Commander in Falkirk. George Johnstone, for his understanding, advice and co-operation.
One of my first duties in the rank was to prepare the Order/Detail for the Fair Day and acknowledging the importance of that event. I was given all the man power required to police the event successfully. In accordance with tradition I led the procession and in doing so achieved a cherished ambition.
While certain Fair Days remain unique and special for those who participate on the day, none can compare with the Fair Day of 1976 for us, since that was the year my wife Nettie was given the honour of crowning the Queen Margo Kennedy.
What a day! What an experience! From early morning, with the Pipe Band playing in our garden at 65 Stewart Avenue, through the Crowning Ceremony, Procession, the Queens Revels in the afternoon and right on to the Gala Dinner in the evening. Willie Rodger and his late wife Margaret guided her all the way. By the end of that eventful day we were both tired but extremely happy and the memory of it all will remain with us all of our days.
In 1978, having completed 31 years, I retired from the Police Service. Regrets? none at all, all my ambitions had been realised and I had the privilege of serving my adopted town in all three ranks, Constable, Sergeant and Inspector.
My association with the Fair was to continue in the capacity of Procession Convener and after a few years in that position I moved on to judging the floats and decorated vehicles at the Chance Park along with Grant Cuthell and Robert Watt. One of these days, I expect a call from Chairman. David Brown, offering me redundancy!
I have enjoyed the challenge of relating my reflections on our Fair Day and I hope you derive some pleasure from reading them.