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Social History - Fairs

A charter of 1667 and a subsequent Barony charter in 1692 provided Stonehouse the right to hold three annual fairs (May, July and November) on the ‘free ground’ (common ground) known as ‘Grozet Knowe’ (Grossyettknowe) This land lies on the left of Spital Road, on the incline from the railway bridge at Burncrooke road-end, up to entry at the Neuk and is now owned privately. The little knoll opposite the Neuk being Grossyettknowe; three elderly Scots pines on the horizon mark the spot. The origins of this place name are uncertain but in trying to unravel its meaning it is probably easier to break the word up and decipher each section separately. A ‘knowe’ is quite simply a hilltop. The word ‘yett’ in Scots is a word to described ‘a natural pass between hills’ (a gateway). Alternatively, Grossyett may have been a corruption of the Scots word ‘Groset’ meaning ‘an agricultural fair’.

Markets in the early days formed a substantial part of the village income; from the buying and selling of cattle and the toll charges
received from traders from outwith the parish. Market days were also the time to pay half yearly accounts between farmers and tradesmen, as well as servants changing hands. These markets were known as the feeing days. With improvements in transport, fair days’ in rural Lanarkshire were popular, attracting day visitors from the surrounding villages and Glasgow. Growers and craftsmen brought their produce to be sold and anyone caught selling or buying outside the markets was fined. Parents and children always dressed in their best clothes and the inhabitants houses and doorsteps were painted in honour of ‘fair day’.

Rev. Hugh Dewar’s Statistical Account of Stonehouse of 1836 containing interesting information of the people attending fairs of the past:
“In a moral and religious point of view, the inhabitants of the village of Stonehouse (which contains a population of nearly 1600 souls) are, with a few exceptions, an industrious, sober, and religious people, nowise addicted to the many vices of the inhabitants of villages of a similar population throughout the kingdom, - such as excessive drinking, swearing, and fighting. Quarrelling and fighting are seldom or never heard of ; and though there are three well attended fairs held in the village yearly, yet many pass over without the slightest appearance of a quarrel.”

During the 19th century there were three fairs; on 28th May, the last Wednesday in July and 28th November (Martinmas). These days were generally local holidays but by the end of the century were changed to Saturdays. Martinmas was named after St. Martin, the 4th century Bishop of Tours and tutor of Ninian. The May festival is still run today on the third Saturday of the month, and appears to have grown in popularity over recent years. A popular event during the 19th century was ploughing matches between local farmers, with as many as 32 taking part; as was the case in 1878.

Before the establishment of the Agricultural Society in 1858, the parishes of Stonehouse and Dalserf held combined shows, generally at the Grossyettknowe. Today the Agricultural Show is primarily a show of livestock from farms across Scotland. The May and November fairs of the past were mainly for the buying and selling of cattle. The July fair, once the largest in the country, was a cattle market but was principally a wool market. These fairs could often last for several days and were also popular with the children of the village. In the latter end of the 19th century, ‘Pinder Ord’s Circus’ came to the village, with performing dogs, hens, elephants, horses and trapeze artists. The circus was always attended by large audiences. Unfortunately, many of these fairs attracted pickpockets and vagrants:

Hamilton Advertiser May 1897
These light fingered gentry were in evidence at the show on Wednesday, and three of them were caught.

During the first world war trotting was popular at the shows, as was the hobby horse which came with the fairground rides. The ‘bearded lady’ was one of the more peculiar attractions at that time. The circus entertainers Bostock & Wombell’s menagerie included camels, dancing bears and even gorillas.

The first Gala day on record was on Saturday 19th June 1948. The chairman of the Gala and the County Council of that time was Robert Brodie who served from 1948-52. The Gala Queen during this period was called the ‘Queen of the Roses’. The first Queen was Anne Elliot and her Champion was James Aitken. The venue of the crowning ceremony was the bandstand in the public park. The Queen and Court visited Stonehouse Hospital after the crowning ceremony, a tradition still upheld. On Gala day, inscribed commemorative medals were presented to the Queen and Court. Food rationing was still in force so application to the food office was essential to produce supplies for the large gathering of people attending the event. Stonehouse Merchants’ Association presented the committee with a cheque for £50 (reckoned at the time to be a magnificent sum) to set in motion an annual Gala Day as the initial one was deemed a great success.

Gala Days from 1949-1952 followed more or less the same format, lapsing between 1953 to 1958. In 1959 a meeting was called to
revive the event, to be held in May, changing the name of the ‘Queen of the Roses’, to the ‘May Queen’, and the ‘Boy Attendant’ to 'Herald’. Mr Jack McEwan was chairman from 1959-1964. The May Queen originates from an ancient Celtic festival. A horse drawn open Landau was hired from the Co-op to transport the May Queen to the park. The Stonehouse Silver Band and Larkhall Silver Band were regulars at the Gala days. The Stonehouse Pipe Band had only a few members during this time. The Tilework Park in Union Street was used for the Crowning Ceremony but there were problems with the park being waterlogged. On one occasion Guy Hamilton’s field off Udston Mill Road had to be used in an emergency.

Before 1963 the boys had worn Elizabethan costumes, but by 1964 they had converted to kilts. The Gala Day then lapsed from 1965 - 1974. From 1974 -1992 the Gala Day was held in the public park before returning once again to the Tilework Park. This festival has been thriving over the past few years, and is one of very few gala days in Lanarkshire. Having been chaired by Fred McDermid for ten years, the festival committee under the auspices of the community council is now chaired by Karen Kennedy.

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