LOOKING back fifty years – a lifetime – how things have changed! The Fair has grown up and is more colourful now than it was then. My first involvement was as a Fairy in 1947 – not a dainty one, as even then I was quite tall, but it was exciting to be part of this Special Day.
My memories of the 1951 Fair began by being chosen Queen Elect by my fellow pupils of the Grange School. The classroom partition was opened and we all moved in together to make things easier. There was quite a buzz as we all settled down to vote, I think perhaps my height helped to swing the voting.
As a treat I had a school dinner once a week, usually when there was a pudding I loved – it had a pastry bottom topped with jam and cornflakes and served with custard – so down to the hall I went for my weekly treat before going home to ask if I could be Queen. Of course the news had travelled before me. Years later Mrs Smith, one of the dinner ladies, told me she could not believe I had taken time to eat my lunch before going home. I still enjoy my food!
I can remember feeling special when congratulatory telegrams began to arrive – no telephones then! Little did I think when I was ” Queen ” at the “Wee Fair” in Gladstone Terrace in 1950 that I would have such a leading part the following year.
The next thing to do was find a suitable dress. I went with Mum and a friend, Mrs Grant, to Glasgow on the train. In those days you caught the train at Bo’ness Station up to Polmont, there you caught the train to Glasgow.
Being very tall for my age I could get an adult dress, but the first two or three we were shown were really not up to the Bo’ness Fair standard! When it was explained to the assistant what a big day this was she disappeared, returning with THE DRESS! It had just arrived that morning so it was obviously meant for me!
We all began to practice again and again but this didn’t prevent me from putting my shoe through the underskirt going up to the platform on the day itself. It was decided that year to broadcast details of the Fair and I was up on the school platform in front of the assembled pupils having been asked to say a few words into the microphone with no prompting. I froze and just didn’t know what to say. Eventually something came out and when we heard the broadcast later this squeaky wee voice came out. Very embarrassing.
The week before the Fair the arch began to be erected, it was a change from the usual boxwood. The idea was that it would be like the entrance to a castle with Bridgeness Tower in the background. Unfortunately it rained and rained. Luckily the arch was covered in tarred paper and painted with my name picked out in paper roses and coloured lights. Due to the weather the arch was not completed despite all the neighbours working through the night getting very wet! There were two traditional boxwood arches put up that year at Grangepans and Cadzow.
The dress was a big secret in those days. I remember my Grandmas’ and Miss Martin our teacher coming to see it. Helen Burnett, who was Queen in 1932, gave me the use of her lace parasol, but due to the weather I was unable to use it. However, it takes more than rain to dampen the special atmosphere in Bo’ness in the weeks leading up to the Fair.
Then came the “Big Day” – Friday the 13th July, 1951. The rain stopped around 7am and the band appeared and played outside the house before being ” watered inside ” by the neighbours outside the kitchen window. It still is a great way to begin the Fair Day hearing the band.
It was an experience being driven to the school, then into the hall and seeing everyone in their outfits. I do not think the boys liked wearing tights but they were very colourful and the Champion, Andrew McIntosh, looked very smart in a chainmail uniform. The Chief Lady in Waiting, Christine McLay, was in a blue dress and everyone else in white dresses with blue ribbons and hats. It was the custom for each school to wear their own colours. Everyone looked lovely, the Page Boys were in white satin and looked very smart but did their job extremely well.
1951 was the year all the Ex-Queens were invited back for the Fair. I found it amazing to have my photograph taken with them all. One had travelled from America and Grace Strachan ( First Fair Queen in 1897 ) had injured her foot but was determined to come even with a bandage on. They were all very kind to me. I felt part of a special group.
When we left the Grange School, there were crowds of people all the way along the route. Then came the entrance to the Glebe Park. Mr Dea, the Rector of the Academy was there to set me on my way into the park. It seemed a very long walk down through the crowds – people shouting “hello” or commenting on my dress – but we made it! I was crowned at exactly eleven o’clock by Mrs Collee and the sun just glinted through. There were not the number of Presentees doing dances back then only two children from each school came up to be presented to the new Queen. The band made sure everyone sang all the Fair Songs – the whole park sang.
That year the procession came through Grangepans, up Cowdenhill and down through my arch and onto Harbour Road. By the time the procession was finished my face was sore from smiling and my hand tired from waving ( I do not envy Her Majesty ). The Revels in the park were cancelled as everything was so wet. The Hippodrome was opened for the schools to go to, and after the Luncheon in the Town Hall ( where I had to make a speech, this time written by a teacher ), I was taken there on parade and given a few cheers. I did enjoy being told by Mr Dickson that I would not have to pay to visit the cinema for a year – Magic!
I cannot remember if I went to the shows that night, but I do remember the next day was brilliant sunshine!!! My arch was dismantled and Grangemouth used it the following year at their Gala Day.
We didn’t have a busy time with visits as they do now. I do remember visiting Laurieston and Linlithgow Fairs where all the Queens from surrounding districts attended. Once you have been a Queen at Bo’ness Fair you are remembered for many years.
I hope our new Queen Nicola will have many memories and Happy Reign.
MARGARET HENDERSON ( Mrs Frost )