The Glasgow Fair

I know this is a week late, but last Saturday was the Glasgow Fair Saturday, 16 July, and anyone living in the West of Scotland has seen the astonishing photographs of literally hundreds of thousands of Glaswegian piling onto trains, buses and steamers for the fortnight’s holiday which to all intents and purposes closed Glasgow down.  While we were working on the restauration and repair of the buildings here at Dalgarven, the history of the spaces did not in my consciousness have any relationship with the said Fair. However, when we began to clear out the smaller building opposite the main Mill, we found in the attic an enormous folded heap of very thick canvas and on the floor six quite substantial wooden poles painted red. I am sad to say that they had no historical resonance for me so I threw them all away.

Crowds of holidaymakers coming ashore at Rothesay pier on July 17, 1956 for the Glasgow Fair holiday. (Picture: TSPL)

Crowds of holidaymakers coming ashore at Rothesay pier on July 17, 1956 for the Glasgow Fair holiday. (Picture: TSPL)

Some years later, my sister, who is 13 years older than me, and who had grown up at the Mill, was having a conversation with me, in her home in Canada, when for some reason I mentioned the canvas and the poles. She immediately threw her hands in he air and screamed ‘The Glasgow Fair’ – somewhat bewildered, I said ‘what?’.  She immediately said ‘oh you would have been too young, but during the war, at the Glasgow Fair, a collection of men women and children from Glasgow arrived at the Mill by bus, carrying suitcases, prams, and a succession of barrows piled with all kinds of cooking and sleeping implements!’.  They were greeted warmly by my father and mother, and my aunt who lived next door.  The first thing they did was to retrieve the large tin trunk which had the canvas in it and the red poles! Now, the Mill only has one flat field, and that is at the top of the hill, beside the railway, and they made their way there:  watched by the village children, they erected a fairly large marquee in which the whole company, perhaps as many as 20 or more, took their meals, and in which the older women and children slept.  It was surrounded by smaller tents in which the men, both young and old, slept with the marquee being used as a giant living room. I said in my innocence ‘what about toilets?’ – ‘don’t ask!‘ was her reply!.  Auntie Lily had the cows, and Mum and Dad had chickens, and my father was always fishing and catching sea trout and salmon, so they were well recompensed for supplying all of these, milk, cream, eggs to the holiday makers. However said my sister, the big excitement was every evening at about 7 o’clock, when the younger women, who could be seen wearing curlers in their hair during daylight hours, and the young men who used to wash, kneeling at the side of the river, would appear for their daily visit to the pubs in Kilwinning’.   From about 6 o’clock onward, certainly my sister and other village children, and many of the older visitors, happened by chance or design to be in the Mill courtyard, some had actually come for milk, some to ‘borrow’ something, and on time the younger men, dressed in brown suits, collars and ties and with the inevitable brown shoes, emerged from the marquee, arm in arm with their wives or girlfriends, dressed now in rather short frocks, and wearing make-up such as had never been seen in the village in the previous twelve months!  And according to my sister, the women had lines drawn down the back of their legs to simulate stocking seams. They made their way to the bus stop and on to the public houses in Kilwinning.  The last bus back was, she thought from memory, about 10.30, and by accident the entire village had gathered again in the Mill courtyard, because among the crowd of suited and befrocked visitors, there was much drunkenness, leading to much singing and the occasional fight!

As the war drew to a close, and life go a little more normal, and families became a little more prosperous, the visits grew smaller and eventually finished. So, unknown to me, I had thrown away mementoes of a time at Dalgarven that was never to be repeated.

Once we opened to the public , we were one weekend visited by an elderly lady and her family. I said to her ‘you are very welcome‘, and she blew me away by saying ‘when I was a wee girl, I used to come here for my holidays!’.

However this year we had the quietest Glasgow Fair that I can ever remember, and one assumes that Glaswegians still go on holiday at this time, but I think you are more likely to find them in Spain than at Dalgarven.

Happy memories though!

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