The next Ferry Fair is the week 7th-12th August 2017, with the parade and crowning ceremony on the 12th.
To understand the Ferry Fair we must first understand the origins of Queensferry.
South Queensferry, once a small fishing village, became a Burgh at end of 13th century, as one of four trading Burghs (including Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Musselburgh) within the bounds of Dunfermline Regality, every Burgh was a trading community established to produce revenue. The Abbot of Dunfermline, as ‘Lord of Regality’, having jurisdiction over the territory, kept customs on merchandise exported from his lands, the customs on imports belonging to the crown. King Robert I, no later than 1329, granted the great customs collected at the four Burghs of Regality, to the convent of Dunfermline.
In order to encourage commercial dealings internally and within the outside world, the Burgh was granted the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. This right was shown materially with a Mercat Cross which determined the head place of the town.
An act of parliament considered by evidence produced, confirmed the charter of 1636 and in 1641 erected Queensferry into a Royal Burgh. This settled the customs matter and Queensferry was now entitled to the customs without challenge. The money raised by taxes was vitally important to the upkeep of the town. It also seemed to have mutually settled any disagreements between Queensferry and Linlithgow.
The bell stane was probably a stone on which sat the handbell used by the Town Officer (for a sum of 4d) to herald the coming of the weekly market or the annual fair. At a later date the capital initial letter for Bellstane was applied to the name giving it significance. Samuel Wilson wanted to purchase the land where the markets were held but this was refused as the council wished to retain it as a market place. (In 1641 he then built and resided in Plewlands House which was then just outside the Queensferry border).
There is a carving on the wall at Bellstane (above the dentist) which shows a Bird and a Bell. The bell is believed to represent the bell rung to herald the markets and Fair (the original bell is now in Queensferry Museum). We are unsure of the history of the bird, however people born and bred in Queensferry are locally known as ‘Bellstane Birds’ and there was a local football team named ‘The Bellstane Birds’ (see Queensferry History archive dated 1/8/2015).
Each twelve months, preparations for the annual Ferry Fair were made. Proclamations were announced in Kirkliston and Linlithgow that “all persons may bring all sorts of wares and commodities to be sold” and brewers were called upon for hiring horses for the riding of the Fair. Before the 25th day of the month of July, the start of the fair week (St James day), booths were erected in the high street for £12 (scots) for each covered stand and £8.00 (scots) for each uncovered erection. All the burgesses were ordered to gather in their best dress including swords in order to ride the fair. If they did not turn up they were fined £14 (scots) and if they had no swords they were fined £7.00 (scots).
By 1765, the Mercat Cross, a symbol of the Burghs status, a well known landmark round which for generations the life of the people had revolved, had fallen in to a state of decay. Its perpendicular pillar was in danger of falling and its situation now “greatly straiten and incommode the street”. The decision was taken to remove it and instead to erect a small platform raised two or three steps high, built to the North side of the steeple, (at Rosebery Hall) hastily decided and with disregard to its historical significance. A skilled craftsman could easily have dismantled the cross, supplied a new shaft and raised it on a suitable site. The platform was a poor substitute for an ancient Celtic Cross.
After the first World War ended, the town council decreed that the celebrations for the Treaty of Peace at Versailles should be held on the Ferry Fair day, 8th August 1919. They generously granted £7.10s towards expenses for the day. A Union Jack three yards long and two small flags for each end were purchased for the decoration of the street.
The Queens Procession met at the Hawes Pier and marched along to Rosebery Hall, led by the Town Crier followed by a Military Band. Children in Fancy Dress also took part in the procession and were presented to the Fair Queen.
First Aid was provided by the Red Cross Society, who also ran a tea room at the adjoining Queensferry Public School.
By 1930 it was decided to incorporate a children’s festival into the fair. A Queen was chosen by her peers in the oldest class at Queensferry Junior Secondary school. The first Queen, in 1930, was Emily McBain and the fair was held in August of that year. This format was carried through until 1939 but was discontinued during the years of the Second World War.
There was no Ferry Fair after 1939 until 1947, due to World War2.
Traditionally the Sports events were held in Burgess Park. It was reported in 1947 that as Burgess Park was in such a bad condition, the Sports events would be held in Station Road Park, (near where the High School is now) until it could be repaired. By 1949 they were back to Burgess Park.
In 1947, 70 years ago, the Fair was started again with Leonora Berry as the chosen Queen. The ex-Queen was Patricia McMahon, then aged 21. Although she was a grown woman by this time, she was honoured to take part in the ceremony with the schoolchildren.
Sadly however, the Courier reported that persistent rain on Thursday curtailed the Boundary Race and the Bury Man got so soaked through that he had a break in the afternoon and the evening’s perambulations to outlying areas had to be cancelled. The weather was fine on Friday for the parade and crowning ceremony however the ground was so sodden that it was decided to cancel the children’s sports. They had refreshments in Rosebery Hall and a film show in the Regal Cinema instead.
We can’t talk about the Ferry Fair without mentioning the ‘Burry Man’!
Many people work hard behind the scenes to bring us both the Burry Man and the Ferry Fair. We are sure with the help and support of the community it will continue for many more years to come.
Information extracted from ‘The History of Queensferry’-Dr Mason 1963, Linlithgowshire Gazette extracts 1835–1947, Dunfermline Abbey Presbytery Website, ‘Fortha’s Lyrics and Other Poems’- Thomas Orrocks, 1880.