chanted the little Bo’ness girls as they raced home from school on the Fair E’en to gaze yet again at the new white dresses and shoes, which they would wear for the first time the following morning. Since Provost Stewart launched his new children’s day the pageant has been staged every summer apart from the years during the First and Second World wars and the Industrial depressions in 1921 and 1926 until today it is the largest and most popular event of its kind in the country, until today it is undoubtedly the largest and simply the best children’s day in the entire length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Nowadays the night before the Fair, locally simply called the Fair E’en, is the night when the population of the town is swelled considerably with the influx of many visitors from all over Central Scotland, thanks to the availability of modern transport. They come in their droves to join with the local inhabitants to view the fantastic creations constructed by the parents and friends of the children who will be participating in the Fair the next day. The ingenuity and inventiveness of our local townspeople have to be seen to be believed and some of these house frontages are almost beyond description. In bygone years, “going round the arches” meant just that, for our ancestors started it all. Then there were huge arches which in the main were built by the miners and they spanned the roads leading into the town at Kinneil, Newtown and Grangepans. In addition of course were dozens od smaller versions and these were to be found outside the homes of the children chosen to be characters at the Fair. These huge arches were works of art – made generally with boxwood and nature’s evergreens – and great was the rivalry between the three areas competing for the First Prize Cards which were awarded by the judges. With Artisan art at its very best, and combined by the craft and expertise of our townspeople, many quite spectacular creations were produced, and it was with bated breath that the builders awaited the arrival of the judges on the Fair morning. It wasn’t only the arch builders who were keen on being recognized as being the best in town, for horse drawn vans and subsequently motorized lorries were always beautifully decorated with greenery and flowers, both natural or made with crepe paper. The builders of these were also extremely competitive, and their products were always the highlight of the mile long procession. In the case of the horse drawn vehicles, the horses themselves were decorated to a wonderfully high standard, and were the sources of unbelievable and genuine admiration. Today, apart from the Champion’s mount, horses have all but disappeared from the procession, but that old saying still remains – “she’s aw dressed up like a Fair horse”! And whilst many people rue the lack of decorated vehicles in the processions of latter years, it must be remembered that keeping a lorry off the road for any length of time is a very costly business. Those which do appear are to be commended, and are of an unusually high standard, and their builders are as enthusiastic and as artistic as their predecessors. Indeed, some of the tableaux, especially created for the Fair, have been entered later for the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Cavalcade and been recognized as the best in their class. Naturally, with Bo’ness having at its disposal two Championship class Brass Bands in Unison Kinneil and Bo’ness and Carriden, Bo’ness Pipe Band, and the Salvation Army Band, music has always played a large part in the general festivities, from the early initial years until the present. In the very earliest of the Children’s Fairs the songs sung were, “Scots Wha Hae”, “Red White & Blue”, and “Auld Lang Syne”. The first of our present Fair songs was “Our Festal Day”, words by R. Fleming, music by E. C. Schofield, and it proved so popular that in a couple of years later in 1903, “Hail to our Queen”, words by Hope A. Thomson with music by L. Dyer Appleby, was added to the musical content. Over the years these songs have become very dear to the hearts of Bo’nessians, and have been sung whenever they meet, in the most unlikely places all over the world! More recently, on the occasion of the Centenary Fair in 1997, a third song was added to the Bo’ness Children’s Fair Festival musical repertoire. “The Best Day of the Year”, words and music by J. Douglas Snedden and arranged for brass bands by Ian Boulter, reflects the demise of the varied industries that made Bo’ness almost self-contained as a Burgh, and the joy and enthusiasm that our Fair brings to the town every year. Sung at the coronation ceremony of Queen Ashley Oldham by a specially formed Centenary Choir, it is now played as the Queen and her retinue leave the stage after the coronation each year. The phrase “The best day of the year” is now generally recognized as being a direct reference to the Fair. It has also been used as the title by the makers of the film depicting the 100 years of Bo’ness Children’s Fair. Tradition has been maintained in the coronation ceremony, which has changed very little over the years. But in 1968, which was the Tercentenary Year of the Burgh of Borrowstounness, certain changes were made to the continuity of the total coronation festivities in the Glebe Park. The stage was revamped and made larger by the introduction of a flat apron stage. Its purpose was to provide a stage for the presentations provided by the various schools. Up and until that time there had only been two children chosen as presentees, but from that year until the present upwards of sixteen children from each school perform a musical number for their newly crowned Majesty’s pleasure and entertainment. In that year also, several changes were made to the old style Royal Revels. The name became the Royal Command Performance, and over the years since then the afternoon show in the Douglas Park has seen every major theatrical and TV star in Scotland come to entertain the vast appreciative crowds on a medieval style double-tiered stage. International acts and bands, singers and dancers from Canada, Russia, America, Poland, Ukraine, France, Denmark and Norway have helped consolidate our Fair’s reputation as being the outstanding Children’s Day in the United Kingdom. 1968 also introduced the Kirkin of the Queen Ceremony, which is held on the Sunday immediately before the Fair, a service organised and conducted by the children and teachers of the particular school providing the retinue of that particular year. Up and until Regionalisation which took place in 1973/74, our Fair was, organised and run, in conjunction with schools, the Town Council. When that was swallowed up by Central Region and Falkirk Council, the responsibility of the existence and continuity of the Fair became that of the townspeople of Bo’ness. Bo’ness Children’s Fair Festival Executive Committee was formed and the running and organization of the Fair has been in their hands ever since. Each convenor of the various sub-committee has a specific job to do, and it is to their credit that the Fair has not only continued, but has gone from strength to strength. One such committee, the Entertainments Committee, was inadvertently responsible for a little piece of history in 1978. In the year previous to that, at that committee’e instigation, the Musical “South Pacific” was produced in the Town Hall by the enthusiastic, collection of talented musical friends in aid of Fair Funds. In the audience at the opening Gala Performance were the Commanding Officer of the United States Marines in Scotland, and the U.S. Consul General in Edinburgh, Mr. Theodore B. Dobbs. Mr. Dobbs, in conversation, became interested and then intrigued when he was given details of our Fair. As a result, he, his wife and children, were guests at Bo’ness Children’s Fair Festival in 1978, and when he walked out to take his place on the guests rostrum, the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines struck up the national anthem of the United States of America. It was a unique moment! As the personnel of the committees have changed throughout these latter years, so also have the conditions under which they have operated. Health and Safety have seen to that. Since the 90’s both stages in either park have had to be replaced from their original wooden structures to those of modern scaffolding. In the Douglas Park the medieval style split level stage has been replaced by a completely flat stage. Wheel chair access to the Town Hall became a necessity and was provided by Falkirk Council, and its necessary course interfered with the situation of the Coronation Platform. This difficulty was also overcome. The glamorous tableaux floats which housed not only the Queen and her Retinue, but also the Fairies and Flower Girls, had also to be scrapped. Brass and Pipe Bands are no longer as easily obtained as they once were, but again, each year, the procession continues to flourish. Support for the Fair from everyone is necessary for it to continue, and to improve. It just doesn’t happen without the dedication of the children, the Teachers, Falkirk Council, but probably above all, the hard work of all the members of all the committees which is in operation ALL of each year. Is that hard work worth while? Well, just think what this little town would be like if these magic words weren’t spoken each year – “Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls, we have a new Queen”. It’s an event well worth working hard for, and although our Centenary Fair was celebrated in 1997, our One Hundredth Fair was not celebrated until 2008 because of the gaps created by the two world wars. In 2008, as in 1997, every existing Ex-Queen who was able, attended the Fair. Some travelled from all over the world, and were introduced to a massive crowd before the crowning ceremony. They then took their places in the procession in specially acquired limousines, and relived their dream. In this history, only three Queen’s have been named, and although the others are equally deserving of mention, space unfortunately prevents such a listing. Nevertheless, every past Queen, young or old, would surely say they accepted the greatest honour that their home town of Bo’ness could bestow upon them – the day that they were crowned Queen at Bo’ness Children’s Fair Festival – was not only the best day of that year, but one of the very best days of their lives.
“The morn’s the Fair and I’ll be there, And I’ll hae up my curlie hair,”