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2008 – Fair Memories – Helen Ward-Birkby

Over the years we all recall Fairs that have a special meaning to us and as we get older we all get great pleasure in remembering the Fairs that have particular memories for our families. So I hope you will enjoy reading about my personal trip down memory lane.

During my primary school years I was a fairy then a flowergirl and my sister Margaret was a fairy twice and a flowergirl. But our two older sisters Kay and May, were never anything so I think we had their share.

In 1958 I was chosen as St Mary’s Queen for the Bo’ness Fair. It was to be a “Special Fair”, as I would be the last Queen from our school at the top of the ‘The Bog’ on Stewart Avenue. Because, in the August, at the start of the new term, the primary school would be transferring to the new Junior Secondary School at Gauze Road. So five years later our Queen would now be chosen from the third year in the secondary instead of the normal p7.

When we small the Fair was the highlight of our year. Everyone would be excited about their new clothes and of course for the girls, there was the inevitable buckskin shoes and by the end of the day we were all crippled by blistered feet. But that wasn’t going to stop us from finishing the day off with a trip to the shows and of course the bag of chips from Corvis to eat on the walk home. In those days we didn’t have another outfit for the evening as the children have now. We were just so happy to keep our dresses on all day and I’m sure there were many tired children who even went to bed in their dresses that night as they would be so tired out. To own a car was rare, so we would have been on our feet all day.

Just as it is today all the usual preparations took place, the training of the retinue by Miss Baptie, which had to be of the highest order, the making of my beautiful dress and of course the house frontage, which kept my parents and neighbours busy up to the big day.

The day arrived and at 8 o’clock in the morning, when Carriden Band arrived to start the day, it was evident that it was going to be a scorcher. So much so that by the end of the day there were quite a few pairs of shoes ruined because on the walk up Harbour Road the tar was melting. Several of the cars had to stop as they were overheating. On our journey round the town there were groups out in Grangepans and Ann Terrace with buckets of water for the children and the horses to drink, as the Ladies in Waiting in those days were also in carriages.

Playing that day for the first time with the big band, was twelve year old boy named Jimmy Williamson, he was as excited as I was and was really looking forward to his special day too. As is the custom, the band play a few tunes and then ask the Queen’s parents if they have a special request. My mum chose the Moray Firth. My mum choose this tune as it had particular significance to her personally, as her dad, my grand-dad William Cameron had, at the end of World War Two received the B.E.M medal for bravery. At the ceremony at Buckingham Palace the band had played the Moray Firth inclusive of the March of the Cameron Men, a tune that is played every year by every brass band attending the Fair.

I also remember coming out of the house to cheers and applause from the neighbours and being a bit overwhelmed. Standing there was a young man named John Dickson. You will all know him as our retired postman. John has remained a personal friend of our family over the years and he is a great enthusiast of the Fair, with a tremendous knowledge of past Fairs. As it turned out this overwhelming feeling would continue for the rest of the day as the crowds of people cheered and wished me well. The enthusiasm of the townspeople of Bo’ness that day still remains, I am happy to say. For of course as far as we are concerned, there is no other day like it.

All of my family have great enthusiasm for the Fair and we all have our own special and different memories which we share every year as the big day approaches.

My sister Margaret remembers being Queen in 1963 and being a bit apprehensive about telling our parents. Can you imagine how they must have felt? Margaret had the very opposite weather from myself, as her day was like a winters day, cold and wet.

In 1982 when her daughter, Paula, was chosen as Chief Lady, she experienced even worse weather. The crowning ceremony was brought forward to 10.50am instead of the traditional 11 o’clock, as the clouds were getting blacker by the minute. Some of you may remember this because a lot of townspeople enter the park about ten minutes before the crowning and of course, they missed it. The procession did take place in torrential rain with the afternoon performance being held in the Town Hall and as we all know, nothing spoils our special day and the crowds were still in the streets to wave and encourage both the children and the bands taking part. Over the years we have had our share of wet days and still our townspeople are there to cheer everyone on.

In 1983 my oldest daughter, Annaliese, was Queen of the Fairies. In 1998 my younger daughter, Hannah, was chosen as Queen and both of these occasions gave great excitement and pleasure to all our family, just as it does for all parents when their child is chosen to participate in the Fair and that Fair becomes special for your family.

Both girls experienced dreadful weather for their parade. My husband and I were disappointed for the girls thinking theri day had been ruined. But no, they both said, “It had been great and would go through it all again no matter what the weather was like.” Hannah remembers especially, the kindness and involvement of Mr Brown the Chairman and Pat Malyn who looked after her on the day. Hannah also has fond memories of Mrs Sandra McAllister who crowned her, and both Sandra and Will have kept in touch since then. Also as a wee girl when we spoke of the Fair she always spoke of her ‘Hip hip Hooray Man’. Dougals Snedden, as he got everyone to cheer!

Other memories I have because my family was involved, were the magnificent floats created by Willie McAllister and his hard working team. These floats were the ‘Waverley’ and the train from the ‘Railway Children’. Both these floats took part in the Edinburgh Festival Cavalcade to great acclaim from everyone watching and both won first prize just as they had done when in the Fair. Last year my granddaughter Laura took part in her first Fair by going on the McAllister float keeping up our family tradition.

Like many of you of a certain age, we can remember when the concept for the presentees changed. Mr. Ritchie, who was Headmaster of the Grange School, introduced the ‘Black and White Minstrels’ and they danced through the town stopping at different points to play their tape recorder and do their routine to great applause from the crowds. We now have wonderful displays every year from our presentees and for many, especially the boys, who have no dance experience, to learn those routines in the short time from being chose to their performance on the Fair Day is wonderful. I’m sure they all feel great when they hear the cheers and applause of the children and adults in both the Glebe and Douglas Parks on the Fair Day.

In the seventies my sister May was involved with the Fair committee and encouraged me to also get involved and I did so until 2004. During this time Mr Brown gave me the great honour of crowning Dawn Tooey in 1998 and I’m happy to say Dawn and I also keep in touch. Yet again another wet but memorable day.

At this point may I pay tribute to the committee past and presentee for there hard work to make sure the Fair goes as smoothly as possible, of course sometimes in the eyes of the public, they get it wrong, but it’s not easy when we all know the weather plays such an important roll in our Fair Day. It is nice to see so many young people getting involved now, but I’m sure the committee could still do with more help.

It has been my great pleasure and privilege to have been involved with St Mary’s School since the seventies, with the presentees and every five years with the retinue. Mrs Sugden, the former Head Teacher was very enthusiastic about the Fair and passed that enthusiasm on to her staff, as quite a few off them didn’t belong to Bo’ness and they were always amazed at their first Fair. The first year there was a decision by some staff at the schools not to participate in the Fair. She asked her staff how they felt and because she was so committed she had a full turn out of staff and in the years the school had the Queen, even the part time staff came back for the day to support her.

This brings me back to Jimmy Williamson, who now plays for Linlithgow Reed Band who have played on many occasions for St Mary’s at the Fair.

In 2004, as the school was waiting to enter the Glebe Park, I mentioned to Jimmy that this would probably be my last year taking part with the school due to ill health. Then without me knowing, he went to the Band Master and Mrs Sugden, and asked if they would play the ‘Moray Firth’ as we entered the park. As we entered, Mrs Sugden put her arm around me and said, “This tune is for you.” Well once again, the Bo’ness Fair had overwhelmed me and I bubbled all the way into the park. Yet another happy memory of Bo’ness Fair. So thank you Jimmy for making me feel so special.

Since 1968 Margaret and myself along with many other former Queens have been invited back to participate in the Fair and the biggest majority of us consider it a great honour to still be involved. It’s lovely for us all to meet up again and the Fair committee treat us like royalty and make sure our day is wonderful. This year my daughter Hannah will be joining this special band of ladies and is really looking forward to it, yet another memory to add to our family list.

I have spoken to many of our former Queens who have be taking part in this years Fair and all are excited about returning once again to take part in this very special, ‘ 100th FAIR’. This year I have been asked on their behalf to wish everyone a happy Fair Day. We all hope Queen Eilidh will enjoy her day and that every year from now on when the crowd sing, “Hail to our Queen,” Eilidh will enjoy the memories of her special day, just as we will on the 27th of June this year.


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