” I’M A Fairy “. These were the words I excitedly shouted as I burst into the house at lunch-time one Tuesday in April 1946. Having heard my parents enthusiastic stories of this magical day in July when all Bo’ness children wore new clothes and school colours were worn with pride, the Queen, her Champion, the Retinue, Fairies and Flowergirls, Maypole dancers, not to mention bands, decorated horses and carts, arches and the procession, I couldn’t wait to be part of the wonderful spectacle.
Preparations began and all the Public School fairy dresses were to be made by the Co-op. The whole operation was in the hands of Mrs. Maisy Thompson who, after the rationing of the war years, could now acquire the materials. Word went around the town ” Tyler’s have white buckskin shoes in!”. white satin ribbon, for the wand, was despatched from a cousin’s relation in Ireland. Eventually the dress was ready, I’d never seen anything like it! White satin bodice, puff sleeves and short sticking out net skirt. My mum then decorated the bodice and skirt with sequins sewn on by hand. She repeated this decoration on my cousin’s dress just varying the pattern.
Meantime my Dad and our neighbours in Bankhead set about planning and erecting an arch made of boxwood adorned with paper flowers and fairy lights. After the blackout of the war years I felt I had been transported to a wonderland.
The Fair Day dawned – the Summer Sun was gleaming!
We assembled at the Public School but before parading to the Glebe Park Miss Grace Livingstone, teacher at the Public School, ordered all Fairies and Flowergirls to the outside toilets. The formidable Miss Livingstone was totally shocked when I had the audacity to say I didn’t need! No one contradicted Miss Livingstone! I went!
From the moment I entered Glebe Park I was hooked. I loved the crowds, the shouting, the excitement which filled the air. When seated on the platform I had a super view of all the principal characters coming through the bowers and ascending the stage, all so colourful. The thrill of the music, the bands, the pageantry, even walking in the procession around Bo’ness could not detract from this happy feeling I was experiencing. What struck me most was that everyone was so joyful. Teachers, children and townspeople seemed to me to be filled with goodwill one towards the other just as the Herald had said. Everyone smiled on the Fair Day and it certainly had exceeded my expectations.
Over the next few years I took part in the Fair, wearing my new dress and shoes, watching the crowning ceremony with my friends, cheering when Mr. Collee announced ” We have a new Queen “. In all that time my keenness never diminished. In 1951 I was lucky to be chosen as a Flowergirl from the Public School. This time my mum made my short white dress. After school on the day before the Fair, Mum took me to Falkirk where we picked up covered buttons for my dress. On our way home torrential rain began to fall and as we neared Bo’ness many roads were awash. Approaching Fison’s at Corbiehall the bus halted, the road was flooded, Town Council employees carried all passengers off the bus and on to dry land. By the time we reached home at Grahamsdyke, Mum’s new navy suede shoes ( being ‘ broken in for the Fair Day, had dyed her feet blue! Again my Dad and our neighbours had erected a boxwood arch for me and this time I had helped to make paper flowers for it. By Fair morning the rain had ceased.
The next two Fairs I spent marching with the Girl Guides, then in 1953 my sister Jean was chosen as a Flowergirl from Grange School. Out came Mum’s sewing machine again and Jean’s white lace dress was ready. Dad had decided Jean’s arch was to be decorated with paper flowers as boxwood was in short supply. On Fair E’en the arch looked bright and colourful but after a night of rain by Fair morning it had turned white! That year Helen Gourlay’s coronation was postponed for one hour due to inclement weather.
In 1954, my last year at Bo’ness Academy, I was thrilled to be chosen as Queen of the Flowergirls. This time my dress and accessories were made in Edinburgh. These included pale pink sandals with a two and a half inch heel which brought a frown to the face of Miss Peggy Hamilton who knew I had to walk round the procession route, but she didn’t reckon on my pride which kept me going! As the procession passed through the town, my aunt overheard a woman in the crowd say to her friend ” Isn’t her dress beautiful “. to which her friend replied ” So it should be, her father is Dickson the banker”. My aunt was compelled to inform them my father was Bill Dixon, the bricklayer!!
As the years went by I met and married Peter Aitken and we never missed a Bo’ness Fair even though I had to work an hour on the Fair morning paying out wages at Kinneil Colliery. In 1960 we planned a two week stay in Jersey for our honeymoon and then realised we would not be home for the Fair. So keen was I to be in Bo’ness we changed our booking to ten days, saw the Fair and we attended the Dinner in the evening.
In 1969 our good friend Mrs Barbara Burns crowned Kathleen Wildman and sharing the Fair morning with her when Carriden band played in her back garden I experienced another aspect of Bo’ness Fair.
I was asked in 1973 to collect from door to door for the Fair and by this time I had a son and a daughter. In doing this I felt I was helping to perpetuate the Fair Day which Bo’ness children could enjoy and felt privileged in some small way to show my thanks and appreciation for the many Fairs I had enjoyed.
My son Keith was a presentee and my niece Ruth was a fairy in 1976 and again we were involved in costumes and arches. This led to my husband acting as a steward with both Deanburn and Public Schools. Keith was again a presentee in 1980 and my daughter Joy was a lady-in-Waiting in 1982. That year the entire Norwegian School Band used my toilet before joining the procession down the Wynd.
When my sister Jean crowned Alison Cross in 1984 it was a proud moment for our family. Jean’s husband David had been appointed Chairman of the Fair Committee in 1980 a position he still holds.
I had long since become involved with the Appeals Committee and apart from collecting we organised Ladies’ Nights, raffles and dances to raise funds for the Fair.
An accident in 1988 sticks in mind. When Queen Dawn Tooey and her Retinue returned to the Town Hall, drenched after being caught in a downpour on Grahamsdyke Road, Vice-Chairman Andrew McFarlane knocked on my door and asked for towels to dry the children so I emptied my linen cupboard and off he went leaving my household with only four towels.
I was given the honour in 1992 of proposing a toast to Queen Jennifer Dougal, at the Fair Dinner. The Retinue were very dear to me that year as I had known most of them since their Playgroup days.
Over the years my involvement with the Fair has grown from collecting, fund-raising, entertaining guests, compeering the Grand Parade to being asked to write this article, which I felt was my ultimate accolade until out of the blue I was invited to crown this year’s Queen Elect, Ashley. I am deeply honoured to have been asked and look forward to again viewing the crowds from the platform. I am cofident that the excitement and magic, first experienced by a wee fairy in 1946 will be as vibrant on 27th June 1997 as it has been every Fair for the last 100 years.