When I was asked to contribute an article to the 2013 Fair programme my initial reaction was I will never remember enough to write about, but after spending a little time thinking about past Fairs I was surprised at how much came back to me.
My first Fair memory is that of being a fairy in 1956, to see a Grange School Queen, Beatrice Stewart’s arch. My impressions as a six year old were of a massive awesome structure covered in green boxwood towering over the road. Boxwood was the main material used to cover the surface of arches then. It was also about this time that I heard people saying that my class at the Grange School would provide the next Queen, although it seemed a long time away.
As I progressed through primary school the summer term was always an exciting time as Fair preparations were taken forward, culminating about a week before the big day with a whole school Fair practice. All the children were taken into the playground and the pupils from each class were arranged in rows of three according to their height, the smallest at the front. This was to ensure that we could see the crowning ceremony, as in these days the children stood throughout the ceremony. Unfortunately this was not foolproof as the smallest boys in a class stood behind the tallest girls, likewise you had no guarantee that the children of the class in front were smaller. After being lined up we practiced by parading in the playground. The excitement mounted as we now knew the Fair Day was nearly here!
The five years following Beatrice Stewart’s coronation passed and I was fortunate to be in the Queen’s class where I was chosen to be a Maid of Honour, while my friend Nancy Cuthell was elected Queen. Preparations began with Miss McLelland, the ‘infant mistress’ as the assistant head with responsibility for the younger children was known as in these days, in charge of the costumes. Standing for no dissenting parental voices, decisions were speedily made and dressmakers found. I remember the great community spirit as the men set about building arches while the women sat in groups outdoor making paper flowers and chatting over endless cups of tea. My dad, who loved working with wood, with the help from a neighbour, started to build my arch. I recall going with him in his van quite a distance to find boxwood hedging as by this time, years of arch building had decimated local supplies. To our delight my arch won first prize in the small arch section. To this day I still have the certificate which was awarded.
Memories of the actual day are rather hazy but I do remember vividly the horse drawn carriage which took us from the school to the Glebe Park and then in the procession around the town. I felt like a princess waving to everyone. All to soon we arrived at the Douglas Park where our involvement in the proceedings ended, as in these days only the Queen, Chief Lady in Waiting and pages went on to the Town Hall for lunch.
For the next few years I was content to be a spectator admiring the many decorated floats that took part in the procession until, as a newly qualified teacher in 1971. I was again part of the Fair walking round the town with my class and so began my 34 years involvement in the Fair. During my two years at Grange Primary I helped with the fairies.
On moving to St Mary’s in 1973 I continued to help with the fairies and flowergirls. The secondary department of the school provided the retinue until 1978. This ended with Queen Karen Kilgallon. By 1983 the secondary department had closed and Gail Muirhead was chosen as the first Queen from the primary department. Miss Silcock who was now head teacher, asked if I would assist with the costumes and training the retinue. Around this time Mrs Helen Ward-Birkby became involved in helping the school with the Fair. So began over twenty years of Helen and I working together. In the earlier years we trained the presentees and we seemed to spend hours hopping around the school hall, trying to fit steps into a few bars of music before we taught them to the children and it was always with a sigh of relief when we got the final note.
Helen was a godsend to me personally when I became Headteacher of St Mary’s in 1989. Without fail just after the beginning of the school year she would appear at the office with the words “Mrs Sugden, I’ve been thinking” The would come her idea for a presentee theme. Usually very happy to go along with her idea I would leave Helen to spend the next few months working on costume design, sourcing fabrics and dressmakers. Some mums worked in the school for many a night cutting, sewing and fitting skeleton costumes.
The “Big Fairs” as we called the years the school provided the Queen seemed to come round ever more quickly. Planning would start the year before with the themes for the Retinue, Presentees and Kirking being decided. Now instead of Helen’s “I’ve been thinking” would come, “Mrs Sugden, have you remembered?” Invariably I hadn’t as there were so many things to remember – letters to parents about permission to take part, times of meetings, costume updates, details of costs, Kirking, wet weather arrangements, the Fair day itself, writing the Kirking service, deciding on music and readings, timetabling practices. The list seemed endless but supportive staff and parents allowed everything to progress fairly smoothly.
An important part of every school’s life is fundraising. But in Bo’ness, when a school has the “Big Fair”, it takes on a whole new meaning. Willing parents and helpers make such a difference to events and while it is impossible to mention in this article everyone who helped individually, I must thank Mary Robertson and her helpers and Gus MacDonald who, despite no longer having children at the school, supported the fund raising every year for the whole of my time as headteacher. It was always a great joy and relief to everyone involved when the total raised was announced and it exceeded the previous years.
The School Arch or Frontage was another huge undertaking but as usual Helen knew someone who knew someone who would draw up the plans. I was fortunate that during all my time as headteacher William McAllister took over the responsibility for the School Frontage and for that I was truly grateful. He organised the workforce so that tasks were completed on time and the frontage was always admired by the public on the Fair e’en.
The “Big Fair Day” would dawn with me peering out the window wondering what the weather was like. On arriving at the school very early I would find James Temperley, who helped every year with the banner, already there trying to assess whether or not it would stay dry. Sadly St Mary’s was not always fortunate with the weather. One year, when the girls in the retinue were wearing rather natty hats, it poured during the procession. By the time the Retinue got to the town hall they were the proverbial “drookit hats”. As staff were trying to dry the children off a voice was heard saying over and over again, “Look at my hat, me mam will kill me! She promised it to an auntie for a wedding!” and indeed although all the other hats still held their shape, this has was bashed beyond all recognition. Luckily for the child the mother in question found it amusing.
On another occasion while walking in the procession through the town, one of the girls in the Retinue complained her foot was sore. Thinking her shoes were rubbing I said whenever the procession stopped I would check it. Luckily we stopped shortly afterwards and instead of a shoe rubbing, the plastic wire shaping the bottom of the dress had come loose and wrapped itself tightly round her ankle cutting into it. Appeals to the public nearby produced a pair of scissors to cut the offending wire. Luckily we were told to keep the scissors as a few more dresses needed a trim before the end of the parade.
In 2005, by my calculations, I had traversed the procession route forty one times mainly on foot and as I was due to retire it was time to bin my fair sandals which had served me well for many years. No longer would I be reminding the children about making sure their Fair shoes’ were comfy or padding sore heels or toes when my advice was heeded.
The last crowning I saw was in 2008 as a guest of the fair committee when Mrs Connarty crowned Eilidh Thomson from St Mary’s. It was a strange feeling to watch the proceedings knowing that I had no responsibility or input into the ceremony. I can hardly believe five years have passed since then and the count down to crown a new Queen from St Mary’s had begun. I hope 2013 will be a wonderful, memorable year for all those involved.