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Information on the village of Newstead in Scotland.

St Boswells Fair

One of the "musts" when I was a boy, was a visit to St Boswells Fair, which was held annually on the 18th July, and dates back to the dim and distant past, when it was one of the largest fairs in Scotland. It was originally held under the authority of the Duke of Buccleuch for the sale of black cattle, horses, sheep and wool.
It also attracted large bands of Gypsies who sold earthenware articles, horn spoons and tin cutlery. The majority of Gypsies possessed horses and carts, which they formed into a corral, turning carts upside-down for shelter and spreading straw and bedding beneath. Cooking was carried out on open fires. A length of steel with a hook at one end to hold the pots, and pointed at the other end, was all that was required.

My first visit to St Boswells Fair was with my two brothers about 1908, and, of course, at that time conditions were much improved from those I described as taking place in the distant past, but were entirely different from present conditions, and may be worth recounting. We walked from home via Newtown St Boswells. Crowds were pouring out of the railway station at Newtown and getting into horse coaches to take them the one mile distance to St Boswells. The footpath was also crowded, some going and some returning from the fair. We had reached the top of the Kirk Brae, and we could hear the sound of music from the distance. This thrilled us and we quickened our steps with the fear that we might have been missing something of importance.
At last, we could see the shows in the distance and we broke into a run, covering the remaining distance in record time.

And what a scene was spread out before our eyes. It seemed that the entire population of Scotland had assembled at St Boswells. The noise was terrific, with blaring merry-go-rounds, or roundabouts as we calld them, in competition with stallholders advertising their wares at the top of their voices, the public adding to the din, and Gypsies who sold horses to prospective buyers, were racing up and down the main road in hope of making a sale.
The booths, stalls and amusements reached narly to the cross-roads, on both sides of the main road, and tents and caravans covered a lrage part of the green. Many of the Gypsies were seated around camp-fires, and seemed to be renewing old friendships with relatives and friends. The showfolk seemed to have their caravans behind the shows, and separate from the Gypsies.

The first thing which attracted our attention was the model figures on the roundabouts, in our eyes they seemed to be made of pure gold. One actually turned its head to look at us and struck a bell it was holding in its left hand.
We also saw a drum being played with invisible hands. It was marvellous.

The roundabouts seemed to be powered by steam, as we could see smoke coming out of a chimney at the top of the vehicle. The hobby horses moved up and down as they went round in a circle, and before they stopped, a loud blast on a horn warned the next batch of customers to be ready.
We were all thrilled watching this wonderful piece of engineering, but as it cost three pence (1 p) for a ride, it was above our budget capabilities so we moved on to the stalls and booths.

Next we came to the coconut stall. The stallholder shouting encouragement at the top of his voice. "hit them hard, they won't swivel", but the nuts seemed to be well embedded in the cups they stood in and not so easy to shift.

We moved on to the hoopla stall, where all kinds of wonderful gifts were on display. All you had to do was throw a hoop over the top of them. It looked so easy, but the catch was that the hoop also had to go over a large wooden block each "gift" stood on, not so easy. Our next visit was to the jewellery stall had the owner loudly proclaiming his wares as solid gold wedding rings, only two shillings and sixpence (12 p) each, or two for four shillings (20p). he attracted a large crowd and caused much amusement by shouting that if any customer bought four wedding rings, he would throw in a bride (sight unseen) free. I don't know if any customer bought two wedding rings, but quite a few bought one.

The next stall was more to our liking. It was selling buns and lemonade and something that every child had to have at the fair, a gingerbread man. You just could not go to the fair without buying a gingerbread man, it was a must. It consisted of a cut-out of a man made of gingerbread with two currants for eyes.
I remembered that, years later when I was serving my apprenticeship as a baker, one of the bakers showed me one of the moulds that were used in the making of gingerbread men, but the practice had long since been discontinued by then.

Our next visit was to the shooting galleries. The first one we visited, you fired through a tunnel at a target at the other end, but the other target was more to our liking. It had jets of water rising about three feet from the central bowl, and coloured balls balancing on the top of each jet. The water was rising and falling all the time, and you had to shoot the balls down.

Our next move was to the swing-boats or "shoogey" boats as they were called locally. The customers supplied the power to operate the device. It consisted of a boat swinging from a wooden frame with two ropes hanging from each end which the customers pulled on alternately. This supplied the motive power. When the proprietor decided that the patron had a reasonable swing, he pulled a brake under the swing, which brought it to a standstill. I had been warned before I left home that I was not allowed to go on the "shoogey" boats as it was not safe for little boys to go on them, and, if I did, I would be sick, and I would get a broken neck, and I would never be allowed to go to St Boswells Fair again. So I went to see the golden figures once more, and my two brothers went on the "shoogey" boats by themselves.

Next to the roundabouts was a booth which a rather well proportioned lady was in charge of. She beckoned to me with her finger and I went up to see what she was wanting. She pointed to a curtained entrance and, when I moved towards it, she immediately stopped me. At this point, I should explain that, due to the sound of the organ's music and the general noise around me, speech was quite impossible. She pointed to a sign on a table which stated "ADULTS 4d CHILDREN 2d", so I had to pay 2 pence to be admitted. This caused a problem as I only had two pence of my spending money left, and I had intended getting another gingerbread man. However, she saw me looking at my money and gave me a nice smile as she held out her hand for it, and I did not have the heart to refuse, and regretfully parted with the last of my spending money. I had no idea what kind of entertainment was in store. I noticed that a white screen had been erected on a platform, so I reasoned that it must be a magic lantern similar to the kind we had at our Sunday School parties. However, after a short period a man came in and started working on the lantern similar to the type I had seen before.
What a fright I got, the pictures were actually moving. Men on the picture were running about and firing at each other, you could actually see the smoke from the guns they were firing. I kept well down in my seat in case I got shot. I had never heard of this wonder before, and I was absolutely thrilled by it, although only a small part of the film was shown.
Many years later I learned that the name of the film was "The Great Train Robbery" and that it was the first serial film to be made by any film company.

I now returned to join my brothers and we discovered that we were all hungry, so we pooled our money resources, at least my brothers did, and we had another gingerbread man each, and one bottle of lemonade between us.
Captain Bligh's boat crew never watched the sharing out of the water supply with more scrutiny than we did sharing out the lemonade.

It was now getting dark, and we decided that we had better be making tracks home, a decision we ought to have made much earlier.

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