STANDING on the velvet-draped balcony of “Buckingham Palace” the “Queen” and her family waved to the cheering crowds below who were kept a respectful distance away, behind gates emblazoned with the monarch’s coat of arms.
It is an iconic image synonymous with the United Kingdom, but with one crucial difference – this was not London, but Bo’ness.
A replica palace, nine metres high, built in a barn and erected on an ordinary street in the West Lothiantown, is part of the annual Children’s Fair – and one of the most extraordinary tributes to the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
The palace, made of 80 sheets of MDF boarding, and 500 metres of timber coated with 40 litres of paint, took three months to construct before being transported by a local haulage company that used a crane to place it outside the home of Nicole Bell, this year’s Fair Queen.
Nicole, 11, chosen as Queen by her classmates at Bo’ness Public School, donned a gown, tiara and white gloves for her appearance on the balcony yesterday.
Her father, James, 50, acknowledged the team effort required to build the structure, one of a number of themed “arches” sited around the town for the children taking part.
He said: “It’s taken a lot of work and planning, but we’re happy with the result. We’ve had so much help, we can’t thank folk enough.”
A number of arches this year were themed on London, recreating famous landmarks, such as Tower Bridge, and a red double-decker London bus.
Nicole’s mother Janet, 49, who runs her own cleaning business, held a fundraising night with raffle prizes donated by local shops and businesses, to cover the costs of the materials and the handmade costumes.
Friends, neighbours and local tradesmen also donated time and materials.
Around 14,000 people lined the streets of the town for the festival.
Jim Stewart, chairman of the organising committee, said: “This event brings the whole community together. Everyone chips in to help and it just gets better every year.
“The economy isn’t great, and we can no longer rely on council funding. But the generosity of the locals hasn’t waned.”
Unlike most of Scotland’s summer festivities, which can trace their origins to the riding of the marches ceremonies or old cattle fairs, Bo’ness Fair began as a celebration of coal miners’ freedom.
Until the end of the 18th century, all Scottish miners were the property of the pits they worked in, as were their children. In 1779, an Act of Parliament released them.
To celebrate, Bo’ness pit workers marched to the homes of the colliery owners, led by their elected deacon, wearing his ornate bonnet, sash and sword.
They were given glasses of whisky toddy, before a brass band led them to the banks of the Forth, to enjoy horse races.
A fairground was set up and there was dancing in the Town Hall for all the mining families.
Gradually, other workers in the town began to take part in the fair and, in 1894, local police commissioners who governed Bo’ness joined in the procession, to take the focus away from drunkenness and improve the event’s reputation.
Children first formed an official part of the fair’s festivities in 1897, for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.