Dream comes true for centenarian who missed being crowned gala Queen 86 years ago

A 100 year old great grandmother has finally been crowned Queen of the country's most spectacular children's fair festival - 86 years after she had to turn down the dream role because of her family's financial situation.
Agnes Fleming, pictures around the time she was chosen to be Bo'ness fair queenAgnes Fleming, pictures around the time she was chosen to be Bo'ness fair queen
Agnes Fleming, pictures around the time she was chosen to be Bo'ness fair queen

When Agnes Fleming was chosen as the Bo’ness Fair Queen in 1935, her family couldn't afford the cost involved.

The Bo'ness Children's Fair Festival is the biggest of its kind in Europe, and to be elected Queen is regarded by many as the highest honour in the town. The Fair Queen undertakes special duties for a year and recipients remain local celebrities for life.

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Agnes only revealed her secret regret to family members recently, and organisers of the Fair responded by arranging for the centenarian to receive the crown and sceptre 86 years on, and be made "Queen for a day".

Agnes Fleming has finally been crownedAgnes Fleming has finally been crowned
Agnes Fleming has finally been crowned

Kirsty Meikle, Agnes' granddaughter, said: "My gran just started talking one day about how she was meant to be the Fair Queen but her mum and dad couldn't afford it so she had to turn it down.

"She could tell us the year and who the girl was who took her place. I checked it out and it was real. She said 'I've never told anybody because I was embarrassed because my mum and dad couldn't afford to let me be Queen'.

"I thought 'Oh my, all these years and we had no idea'. It must have been very hard for her as a child to watch another girl take her place."

The informal crowning, in the Polmont care home where she now resides, was one of the final duties carried out by 2020 Fair Queen Lily Harvey, before a new Queen was crowned.

Agnes pictures with her great grandchildren Matthew, 4, and Lucy, 8Agnes pictures with her great grandchildren Matthew, 4, and Lucy, 8
Agnes pictures with her great grandchildren Matthew, 4, and Lucy, 8

Kirsty, 42, whose own daughter Lucy, eight, is at least the fourth successive generation of her family to take part in the Fair, said that her grandmother was delighted with the honour.

She said: "We kept it a surprise. I went to see my granny and told her 'I've got a visitor with me -- this is Lily, the Bo'ness fair Queen'.

"There was a small crowning ceremony and she held the sceptre for the first time. It was just lovely. She finally got her chance to be the Queen for a day at the age of 100. She was quite emotional and absolutely delighted."

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Agnes, who can clearly remember the sunshine on the day she missed out 86 years ago, told her family: "It's lovely... I've waited a very long time."

Scott McBride, Chairman of the Bo'ness Children's Fair, attended the crowning ceremony along with Fair Queen Lily, Agnes' family and a small number of staff and residents at the care home.

The group even sang the Fair song, "See the Summer Sun is Gleaming", with Agnes recalling all the words.

Mr McBride said: "Agnes has reached 100 years old and one of her life's biggest regrets was being picked to be the Fair Queen and not being able to do it.

"I just thought it would be a nice gesture to make her Queen for a day. Agnes was very excited, and enjoyed her day, singing along with the Fair songs."

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.

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Children first formed an official part of the fair’s festivities in 1897, for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Agnes was born in Bo'ness on 14 May 1921, one of seven children to Ainslie and Christina Donaldson. She attended Grange Primary School, where she sang in the school choir, and later Bo’ness Academy.

She worked as an usherette in the town's Star picturehouse and, during the War served the country by working at the "can factory" in Bo'ness.

She married her late husband Joe in 1943 and had her only child, Alex, in 1945. She has one granddaughter, Kirsty, and two great grandchildren, Lucy, eight, and Matthew, aged four.On opening her telegram from the Queen in May, she showed her sense of humour, saying: "Well, she’s got more wrinkles than me".

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