WHEN Queen Ashley is crowned at this year’s centennial Bo’ness Fair, she will be the 89th to bear the title. Happily almost fifty of her predecessors will be present to share in her coronation day and in the memories of the years when they reigned over our seaport town on the Forth.
For many of our former Queens the memories begin with the day when they were democratically elected by their fellow school pupils. Margaret Grant, the last Queen to come from the original Kinneil School at Deanfield has a particular reason to recall the day her classmates voted for her. She was given special permission to run home so she might be first to tell her mother, when on the way coming towards her pushing his black upright bicycle, she spotted the redoubtable Hugh Jones, the attendance officer, who in those more disciplined times struck terror into the hearts of Bo’ness bairns, ” Oh I hope he disnae stop me,” Margaret remembers praying, but he did, ” And where do you think you’re going young lady,” he demanded. After hearing of her special mission, he looked at her sternly and without a glimmer of a smile declared, ” Well run hame, but just you remember to run straight back to school.”
In 1951, Queen Margaret Henderson, took her election much calmly. ” The day I was chosen Queen, I had been given permission to have lunch at school with my friends, which I regard as a special treat since the sweet was jam tart with latticed pastry. The dinner ladies were quite amazed that I sat and ate everything, before dashing home in what was left of the lunch hour, to tell my mum the news.”
Queen Kathleen Wildman, the last Academy Queen, also has a lunch time memory of her election day. ” The voting took place on a Tuesday morning, the day each week when I went to my mum’s friend Eileen Harbison. I went as usual, but as I munched my way through it, Eileen said, ” You’re awful quiet today, Kathleen, is there something wrong?”
” Wrong “, I replied, ” There’s nothing wrong. I’ve just been chosen Queen this morning.” and burst into tears. After congratulating me Eileen poured me a glass of sherry, not to celebrate, but to calm me down and remembering that as an Academy Queen I was almost 18, and today’s youngsters may be surprised to learn that was my first taste of alcohol. I never developed a taste for it and remain a non-drinker to this day, but when anyone offers me a sherry, I still remember the day I became Bo’ness Fair Queen.”
Another Queen who well remembers the day she was elected is Dawn Galloway. ” My favourite memory of being Queen in 1977 is of the day I was chosen. Mum and dad came home early from work to collect me from my granny’s, where there was great excitement and lots of hugs and kisses. But it was going back to my own house I remember most, with all the neighbours out cheering and waving and rushing over with promises to build my arch. It was then I realised being chosen was not only special for myself and my family, but for the whole neighbourhood. Bringing people together and taking pride in our town is what the Fair is all about. Even now, although I’m married with three children, I know in Bo’ness, I’ll always be, ” the wee lassie Galloway, you know, the one that was Queen.”
Bo’ness has never been prouder of it’s Fair than in 1946, when after a gap of six years, the longest in its history, caused by the hostilities with Germany, the whole town rallied to revive it despite drastic postwar shortages and rationing. The honour of being the first Queen after the war went to Sadie Potter from the Grange School. She says, ” Most Bo’ness girls have some knowledge of what it means to be the Queen, as they have probably already taken part in the Fair as fairies, flower girls or Presentees or certainly at least attended it. For me it was different. I could scarcely remember the 1939 Fair, I was so young. In fact the only Fairs I had known were the Wee Fairs our parents had encouraged us to hold to keep alive the tradition and to keep up our spirits during the years of the fighting. These Wee Fairs like the ones in which I played a part at Anne Terrace and Craigview were very makeshift events with velvet and lace curtains borrowed from mothers and I was never even old enough to wear the cardboard crown, so the real crowning ceremony was a revelation. After fifty one years I still remember my coronation, the brilliant sunshine all day long, my mother wiping a tear from her eye as Carriden Band played outside our house and the wonderful atmosphere as Bo’nessians celebrated the return of peace.”
That the Fair was revived so smoothly was a great tribute to the teachers who trained the royal court and many of our former Queens have memories of the ladies who trained them and whose bark they now realise was worse than their bite. They included Miss Helen McLellan who reigned supreme over practices at the Grange, Miss Mary Baptie whose patience ensured perfection at St. Mary’s fairs, Miss Elizabeth Hastie whose eye for detail complemented the innovative ideas of Headmaster Jimmy Anderson at Kinneil including his new military look for the boys of the royal court and the formidable Miss Livingston and her colleague Miss Bunty Smith who supervised the practices at the Public. The latter school’s choice of Queen in 1962, Elizabeth Murphy remembers Miss Livingston telling her. ” You have been chosen by your fellow pupils to represent not only your school but the whole of Bo’ness and you will not let us down!”
Queen Donna Cameron also recalls the effort to ensure perfection on her big day, when she was crowned by Mrs Kathleen Dalyell in 1970. ” Everyone involved at Kinneil School practised daily to make sure each move was correct. Later during the year of my reign I was the first Queen to represent Bo’ness at the Parade of Queens at Falkirk Town Hall and appreciated the confidence all the training had given me.”
Even with such expert training, several former Queens still admit to Fair Day nerves. Such was the case way back on 15th July 1932 with Academy Queen Helen Burnett. She states, ” I was happy as we made our way up to the new school in Academy Road and from there on to the Glebe Park, but, when I stepped out of the carriage and saw the rows of people lining the path, my composure deserted me. I started to tremble. At that moment I heard a voice say, ” Aw, puir wee soul, her’s lips trembling!” I pulled myself together, started smiling, and from then on I enjoyed every moment of that day.”
Exactly forty years later her successor Queen Jean Dewar experienced similar feelings. ” When I think back to 1972 what comes instantly to mind is my departure for the Glebe Park. I was all ready to leave my home with my pageboys, but when my dad opened the door and saw all these prople cheering and clapping at the gate, I promptly asked him to close it again, saying to my Mum, ” I can’t go out there in front of all these people.” ” It’s a bit too late now tootsie,” replied my Mum. ” You’ll have to go!” And go I did, but it was only then it really dawned on me how huge an occasion Bo’ness Fair really is.”
Maria McIntosh, who was crowned in 1993 by Mrs T. Mulholland, definitely agrees. ” The memory which sticks most in my mind was the tremendous number of people I saw looking up at me when I took my seat on the Throne. I remember the cheers of what seemed the whole town as the Town Hall clock chimed eleven and official commentator Douglas Snedden announced that Bo’ness had a new Fair Queen and how very nervous I felt walking down the red carpeted stairs in case the crown fell off and reached the bottom before me.”
In 1995 just such a nightmare actually happened to Queen Roberta McGill, but her sunny personality allowed her to keep her composure and she now recalls the moment with a smile, ” I had just been crowned, when I felt in slip and I knew it was going to fall. It did, but fortunately I had my Chief Lady-in-Waiting, Lorraine Sansom to help me. We had had lots of fun and many laughs preparing for the Fair, but when the crown slipped we just quickly carried on as if we had been trained to cope with such an eventuality. I was determined nothing was going to rob me of the moment just a minute before when the clock chimed eleven and a voice boomed out saying, ” We now have a new Queen, Queen Roberta McGill.” To me, being Queen of Bo’ness Fair was and still is the most, a treasured magical moment of my young life and one, which I am certain, I will carry with me all my days.”
Like Queen Roberta many of our other former Queens recall how the support of their Chief Ladies-in-Waiting and other members of their royal court helped overcome their nervousness and the last Academy Queen before the war, Kathleen Millar, fifty nine years later still recalls, ” feeling safe in having stalwart sixth former as my Champion. Immediately after my Fair Day, with it seemed the sound of the mass choir of my fellow pupils singing the Fair songs, ‘ Festal Day ‘ and ‘ Hail to Our Queen’ still ringing in my ears, I left the town for a family holiday in Caithness. I imagined my Fair was over, but imagine my amazement when a few days later a very puzzled postman delivered a proclamation addressed to Queen Kathleen and bearing a list of signatures of my ‘ royal subjects’. I have it still.”
Queen Kathleen was crowned in 1938 by Mrs P. Aitken and many of our former Queens also make mentions of the special relationship which developed between them and the lady chosen to perform the crowning ceremony. Kerry Simpson, whose coronation took place in 1994, says, ” My most outstanding memory is the moment Maggie Watt crowned me Queen. Maggie was perfect choice for me as I admired her very much and I consider her a very special friend. When she placed the crown on my head the whole town seemed to erupt into confusion of shouting and cheering. It was then that I knew I was truly Bo’ness Fair Queen.”
The crown worn by young Kerry was specially commissioned by Bo’ness Fair Committee in 1966 from Scotland’s most famous jewellers, Hamilton and Inches of George Street, Edinburgh. Queen Jeanette Neill from Grange School was first to wear it and she remembers the day one week before her coronation when the Provost came to her home to show her it and the magnificent new robes to go with it. ” It gleamed in the sun light as I lifted it up at the window and it was as I saw the people outside waiting to catch a glimpse of it, that I realised the magic of being crowned Bo’ness Fair Queen.”
It is a special fairytale magic which is most carefully protected by all connected with the Fair and Jeannette also recalls how it was almost shattered as she rode through the crowd packed streets on the sparkling silver Queen’s float, which was a feature of the procession during the 1960’s. ” It was sweltering hot as I travelled through Grangepans and that great Fair stalwart, May Main, presented me with a bottle of Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru’ to quench my thirst, but it was promptly snatched away by one of the stewards, who very correctly informed me that no matter how hot it was a Bo’ness Fair Queen would never accept a drink in public, far less one from a bottle.” Despite being denied that drink, Jeanette is certain he was right. The fairy tale magic which weaves its Brigadoon-like spell around Bo’ness on Fair Day is a mysteriously wonderful power which is valued and respected by all Bo’nessians.
It’s a magic which even colours former Queens’ memories of their coronation day. Elizabeth Murphy the Public School Queen in 1962 tells us that, ” I remember a gloriously sunny day from start to finish, but am assured by Mother it was a dull overcast morning until the sun broke through right on time as Burgh Surveyor’s wife Mrs Renton placed the crown on my head. My coronation marked the first appearance of the new style presentees with Grange School Headmaster, Alex Ritchie’s all singing, all dancing, Black and White Minstrels and they and their successors have added even more colour, spectacle and magic, bringing to the Fair scenes ranging from the children at the court of Siam to visitors from outer space and from cowboys and girls of the Wild West to the character’s from Disney’s African ‘ Lion King.’
Over the years Bo’ness Fair has also attracted most of the top names from the Scottish world of show business both at the Royal Command Performance in the spectacular setting of the Douglas Park with its panoramic backcloth of the view over the Forth and in the supporting events leading up to it. During her reign, 1980’s Queen, Annette Simpson, enjoyed the thrill of arriving by helicopter for the fete held in the grounds of Kinneil House. Her companion on that flight was much loved comedian Jimmy Logan. She says, ” I shall always smile at the memory of this huge star of the stage and screen squeezing my wee hand very, very tightly, because he confessed to me that he was so nervous of flying.”
Since the 1960’s Bo’ness Fair has also taken on a very international aspect with overseas visitors ranging from the Beaconsfield High School Band from Canada, the Sinsen Youth Band from Norway and the Zakonpane Folk Song and Dance Group from Poland, who all appeared at the Fair in 1968, the Burgh’s tercentenary year, to the Rakkestad and Tananger Skolekorps whose sparkling, colourful performances enlivened last year’s procession. The honour of crowning the Queen has however only once gone to a lady from another country, but who had adopted Bo’ness as her home, the late Karen Darge. Mrs Darge crowned Queen Kirsty Lockwood in 1979, Kirsty says, ” It was a bitterly cold morning when I left Deanburn School for the crowning ceremony and I remember how worried my Headmaster, Mr Jim Vallance was that I would freeze to death. However, the moment Mrs Darge placed the crown on my head at eleven o’clock, I recall looking up to the sky as the sun suddenly appeared. Mrs Darge smiled down on me and everyone cheered. That moment especially significant for me as my Auntie Sadie was Queen in 1946 and my family was particularly delighted to be honoured again thirty-three years later.”
St. Mary’s School also produced an interesting Fair coincidence when Margaret Donaldson became its first Queen from the new building in Gauze Road in 1963, succeeding her older sister Helen Donaldson the last of its Queens from the old building in Stewart Avenue in 1958. Both have their memories and Helen recalls that, ” In Bo’ness Fair history, 1958 Fair Day was one of the hottest ever recorded. The sun was already out, when Police Inspector Turnbull arrived at my home and greeted me with the words, ” Is Her Majesty Ready?” I remember him with great affection and how special his words made me feel. When I arrived at the Glebe Park, the crowds seemed enormous. I was overwhelmed with a rush of fear and apprehension of what lay ahead and once more the kindly inspector was on hand to re-assure me and to wish me a happy and memorable day, which it truly turned out to be.”
The long walk through the Glebe Park to the throne is also what her sister Queen Margaret remembers most from her coronation day five years later. ” I recall vividly my arrival at the park. Whilst walking down slowly to the crowning platform one or other of my little page boys, Brian Boardman and Brian Madden accidentally stood on the tail of my long flowing cloak, causing me to stumble and become very nervous. From the heart of the crowd nearby, I heard the familiar and calming voice of my aunt, Jean Grant, saying, ” dinnae panic, just take your time. It’s your day!” I stepped forward with confidence and carried on to enjoy a day I will remember always.”
The Donaldson Queens’ royal line was followed by another from St. Mary’s, when in 1968 Queen Marjory McLean became the second monarch in her family, her mother, Queen Mary Markie having reigned in 1931.
The history of our Fair is full of such interesting details. In 1951 for instance Queen Margaret Henderson put the Fair on the air, when she broadcast on the B.B.C. Home Service. ” I was forbidden from making any notes and had to perform live in front of the whole school. The live broadcast commenced with a long silence and then my squeaky voice. Although I cannot remember what I said, I can remember the embarrassment.” Later the Fair was seen nationwide on television when S.T.V. screened ‘ Good Morning Dawn ‘, when Queen Dawn Galloway was crowned in 1977.
Queen Alison Cross had a particularly eventful reign as she shared in the excitement of Bo’ness United winning the Scottish Junior Cup, to mark it she received a gold bracelet and she was also given the honour of officiating at the dedication of the Clock Tower in Market Square, given to the town by A. Ballantine and Sons, New Grange Foundry. Alison feels that, ” there is no one thing which makes the Fair special. It is a mixture of lots of memories and emotions, all brought back to me each year just hearing a band play the tunes so closely connected with the Fair or going round the arches on the Fair E’en.”
Alison continues, ” My most enduring memory is in fact of my arch. It was a replica of London’s Tower Bridge and although I had watched it being built, piece by piece, I had no idea how it would look once it was erected. Walking home from school a few days before the Fair, I was astonished to find the road blocked off and lots of people out of their houses. Imagine my surprise to find the cause of the problem was a fifty foot crane needed to put up my arch.”
Arches have always been a special feature of the Fair and provide the Children’s Festival we love so much today with a direct link with the famous Miners’ March from which it traces its origin, because it was through building the original arches that the men who worked at the pits found a continued involvement in the new style festivities. For almost half a century these arches were made of immaculately clipped and manicured green boxwood gathered from Kinneil, Hopetoun and other local estates and Queen Mary Snedden has particular memories of one of the last of them which spanned the entire width of Cadzow Avenue outside her home in 1947 and of all the multi-coloured paper flowers which the womenfolk of Newtown mass produced to decorate it.
Memories of a similar traditional arch also come flooding back for Queen Helen Burnett. ” The beautiful arch over the roadway in front of my home was the first double arch to stand on its own, without holes dug to support it. The men who had nobly undertaken to build it, working under the direction of Mr Thomas Cuthell and Mr Joseph McVeigh, had toiled all night, spurred on by the efforts of my poor mother and father to keep them going with cups of tea. To crown it all, as I looked out as dawn broke on Fair morning 1932, to my amazement, over the gate was also a lovely little arch, which kind neighbours had succeeded in building and erecting, unknown to me.”
Throughout its century, Bo’ness Fair has always conjured up special memories such as this. ” It was a childhood dream come true.” says Queen Jennifer Sneddon who was crowned in 1971, while the Queen of exactly a decade later, Karen Maxwell says, ” 1981 was the most wonderful year of my life. From the day I was chosen right through the twelve months of my reign. I was treated like royalty. From the day of my election the members of the Fair Committee were wonderful to work with. People often never think about the amount of backroom work which goes on to ensure the success of the Fair, but as a former Queen I will never forget all of the toil and effort, which ensured it was a day and a year I’ll never forget.”
To take part in the Fair was always a young Bo’ness girl’s wish, ” writes Queen Mary Gibson who represented the Academy in 1954, ” To be chosen Queen was a dream come true. My memories of the day remain crystal clear. ” Is the sun shining?” were my waking words. As the years pass, I am still as proud to be a Bo’nessian as I was on that special occasion, which ranks among the highlights of my life.” This year Queen Mary will return from her home across the Forth in Charlestown, while Jean Baillie is travelling all the way back from Australia. Like all our other returning monarchs they are looking forward to sharing again in the atmosphere as the excitement mounts towards the crowning moment just as it has done at every Fair since Queen Grace Strachan first took the throne in 1897.
Queen Helen Gourlay, who was elected by the pupils of St. Mary’s in 1953 writes. ” It gives me great pleasure to be asked to participate in this year’s centenary Fair. I have always looked back on the day I was crowned Queen as my special day and a special day for the whole of my family. I wish this year’s Queen Elect, Ashley, health, wealth and happiness throughout her life and hope she enjoys what will be a historic day, not only for her but for the town of Bo’ness.”
That is a view shared by the most senior of the former Queens, who have contributed to this centenary article. Helen Burnett. Her summing up captures all that the Fair is about when she says, ” The sun shone brilliantly, the crowds cheered their very loudest and I was so happy at having been chosen Fair Queen of Bo’ness, the town of which I have been so justly proud all of my life.”
WILLIAM F. HENDRIE