What was it like to be a Bo’ness Fair Queen more than 50 years ago? Actually, I can remember it as if it were yesterday! I was the first Fair Queen to be chosen from the new Kinneil Primary School. After I was chosen, I can remember my teacher Mr Paton congratulating me, then saying, “And remember, June, even Queens get their heads chopped off!”
I rushed home at lunch time to break the news to my parents. My mother, who was usually a quiet and reserved person, ran past me and up the street shouting to our neighbours that I was the Queen. I got no lunch that day. When I asked where my lunch was, Mum answered that I would be too excited to eat! Well, not exactly, as 12 year olds are always hungry.
As is still the case today, Bo’ness was rife with rumours, and rumour had it that my mother and I flew straight to Paris for the dress! Actually, the dress was designed and made in Glasgow. The material was Swiss hand-embroidered silver lurex, and it cost £50. The Tiara was from Greensmith Downs in George Street, Edinburgh, and cost £35. In those days the average weekly wage was around £13, so even all those years ago, when money was very tight, there was no expense spared for the Bo’ness Fair Day. There was no fundraising then, but family and friends contributed as best they could.
As is traditional, the neighbours got together to build the arch. It straddled the street, and was built in the style of a castle. As the Fair Day drew near, it was apparent that the arch would not be finished in time, so the manager of Kinneil Colliery sent his tradesmen painters along to finish the Queen’s Arch at all costs.
I was crowned by Mrs Gould, the wife of George Gould, Principal Teacher of Art at Bo’ness Academy. They were very kind to me, and I remember them taking me to The Horse of the Year Show, because of my great interest in horses, and Mr Gould presented me with one of his paintings. Mrs Gould gave me a locket with their photos in it, which I still wear today.
I really did feel like a Queen for a day. I can remember sitting on my ‘Throne’ after the Crowning Ceremony, when the National Anthem was played, and the Lifeboys stood to attention and saluted me throughout the Anthem. It was an amazing sight! The route of the procession was even changed to go along Panbrae Road, Deanfield Road and Castleloan so that the “Queen would be seen by her own friends and neighbours.”
The reports in the Journal and Gazette the following week spoke about me as if I really was Royalty. I still have a copy of the Journal and Gazette dated Friday 8th July 1960 and I have been amused by the reporting which seems a bit dated today. I sounded more ’royal’ than the real Queen Elizabeth. Here is what it said. “The Queen was a picture of loveliness. There was a poised, controlled graciousness in her every movement as she waved and smiled happily to the multitude. She was indeed a regal figure.” It is hard to recognise myself, especially as my dad always said that I would have preferred to be the Champion, and go round the town on the horse!
At the luncheon I was toasted by Dean of Guild Cook who talked about an incident at the ceremony… one that I remember very well. He said, “Our lovely Chief Lady in Waiting, Esther McPherson was experiencing some difficulty in removing the Queen’s coronet prior to the crown being placed upon her head. I believe she was having trouble with June’s ‘kirbies’, but all the time she was trying to unravel the problem, Queen June kept smiling and looked as placid and charming as ever. To be able to meet and overcome these small adversities with a smile speaks volumes for June’s natural instincts.” In actual fact, panic was setting in for Esther and me. In the end she ‘yanked’ the Tiara off in desperation, and nearly took my head with it. So, Mr Paton’s warning that I could lose my head very nearly came true!
Of course, my parents were very proud. My dad went around for weeks later humming the ‘Gold and Silver Waltz’, which is the music played when the Queen walks down through the Arches. Years later when the ex-Queens were invited back for the Centenary Fair Day, my dad who was becoming frail, was driven to the Chance Corner where he stood to watch the procession, and when he saw me he had a tear in his eye.
As we all know, everyone has a new outfit for the Fair. My dad gave me money every year for my Fair outfit, even when I was grown up and married. One year, there was a particularly fat envelope waiting for me. I tore open the envelope and threw it in the fire, then counted the money. I was going to have a particularly nice outfit that year! Later, my dad asked if I had enjoyed his ‘alliteration’. “What alliteration?” I replied. He had written on the envelope — ‘For Fair Frock Fund, From Father.’ Oh dear, I am afraid that his literary gem was somewhat wasted on me on that occasion, and I was well and truly found out!
I worked as a teacher in Linlithgow Academy for 27 years. The Fair Day was not a holiday, as we got a holiday for The Marches. I can tell you that there was only one day in the year that I hated going to work — The Bo’ness Fair Day. I hated leaving the town when I could hear the bands playing. You will understand, when I tell you that I had a lump in my throat. However, I had a very sympathetic Head of Department, and since it was the last day of term, and we were finishing at lunch time, he always allowed me to leave early. As luck would have it… sod’s law… invariably the Headmaster or an Assistant Head would be looking for me for some reason or other. They were always told that, ”June has gone to Oliphant’s for cakes!” So this became a stock phrase in Linlithgow Academy on the Fair Day, and I am sure that the headmaster knew full well that it meant that I had made it to Bo’ness in time for the Crowning! Not many people know this, and I hope that no one from West Lothian Education Department is reading this!
I was brought up in Castleloan, which looked a lot different than it does today. The houses consisted of 5 blocks — The Old Block, The Middle Block, The Piano Block (which was so named because it housed the ‘Gaffers’ from the pit, who all owned pianos), East Castleloan, and Moscow — so named because it was constructed from red brick, as opposed to the stone that the other blocks were made of. They were happy days with a marvellous community spirit. There was a great sense of humour and camaraderie. Doors were not locked, and children played happily outside from morning till night and parents did not have the fear and anxiety that they experience today. When I was a wee girl, I loved picnics along the Dean, when all the mothers and the children went together. We also had ‘Wee Fairs’ every summer, and we were all as happy as the days were long.
Kinneil Colliery was the main employer in our community 50 years ago. Our Fair Day actually began as a celebration of the colliers’ release from territorial bondage. Until the latter part of the 18th Century it was customary for all Scottish miners to be bound to their pits, as were their children. Thus their bondage went on for generations. To celebrate their liberty when the law was repealed, the miners of Bo’ness staged their first Fair. Today, people come from all over the world to see the pageant. It is a unique occasion and one we are all proud of. As an ex-Queen, I have been invited back three times now. It is only then that you realise the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, not only for the weeks building up to the Fair, but during the whole year.
Throughout my adult life, when being introduced to Bo’nessians, they have often commented, “Oh, you were Queen at the Bo’ness Fair,” so you are not only famous for a day, but for the rest of your life. To be Queen at the Bo’ness Fair is a very special privilege, and the memories of this day remain with you for ever. May the Fair continue for another 50 years, and beyond!
Bo’ness Fair Queen
Kinneil School, 1960