An American songwriter, some years ago, penned the lyric ‘‘a friend came around, tried to clean up this town’’.
He could have been – but clearly wasn’t – referring to the man who was instrumental in birthing the Bo’ness Children’s Midsummer Festival, commonly referred to as “The Fair”.
For that was precisely what a disgusted Provost George Stewart did in 1897 when, fed up with the drunken antics of the miners celebrating their annual holiday, he vowed that something had to be done to improve the town’s image.
From that date on the town’s schoolchildren became involved in the annual event which under the Provost’s direction was modelled on a similar event in Lanark – Lanimer Day – to this day the only serious challenger to the Bo’ness Children’s Fair in terms of size and spectacle.
At that time much of the Fair was staged at the then private Kinneil Estate although for many years the quite staggering spectacle that is the assembly of the queen-elect’s retinue and the time-honoured coronation has taken place in the Glebe Park against the imposing background of the venerable town hall and Craigmailen Church, themselves a reminder of the Fair’s Victorian origins.
Of course, methods and materials have changed beyond recognition in the century and more since Provost Stewart had his brainwave.
Long gone are the boxwood and greenery arches which reflected their times as eloquently as do today’s staggering house frontages and arches which take contemporary culture as their theme.
But what that venerable first citizen did was to harness the indomitable community spirit which then existed and still does exist in the town.
From the get-go, the Fair was an event which very quickly took on a life of its own with residents and which has proved virtually unique in surviving, indeed thriving, despite two world wars and the vagaries of the economy locally and nationally over more than 100 years.
Other community events like Linlithgow Gala Day, Mariners’ Day, Grangemouth Gala Day, and so many others have seen their fortunes wax and wane – mostly wane in recent times it has to be said – but the appeal of The Fair for Bo’nessians is constant.
Led from the top by its executive chairman, responsibility for various tasks is delegated down through sub-committees (such as entertainments, Glebe Park, procession and Douglas Park) each individual tasked with ensuring their particular responsiblity runs like a well-oiled machine come Fair Day no matter the weather.
Now held on the last day of the school session one would like to think good weather would prevail but in Scotland that is never a “given”!
That said, the Fair has never been cancelled and, amazingly, the coronation of the incoming queen in the Glebe Park on the stroke of 11am has only ever had to be held indoors on a handful of occasions in 110 years!
Crowds begin to gather early on Fair Day in the Glebe Park awaiting the procession of school pupils from across the town as well as the exquisitely attired retinue.
Once the incoming queen has been crowned and the champion has issued his challenge to all-comers, a host of representatives from youth groups and organisations as well as the dux medallists from Bo’ness Academy make their way to the queen’s throne to pay tribute.
Then the presentees from the primary schools perform their routine ... and on the stroke of noon (more or less) the massive procession sets off on its route around the town giving residents their chance to hail their new queen!