Elizabeth Hurren, Gala Queen of 1930

by Helen-Jane Shearer

Article published in Konect, Calders edition June 2010

As the East Calder and Wilkieston Gala committee puts the finishing touches to the arrangements for the re-introduction of the gala queen this year for the first time since the 1930s, the lady who will be crowning the queen remembers her own day as gala queen - exactly 80 years ago.

Introducing Mrs Elizabeth Hurren, East Calder resident and Gala Queen of 1930. I went to see Mrs Hurren along with current Queen’s Court Convener Cindy Smart. At 94 years of age, Mrs Hurren still vividly recalls the details of her day as Queen, as well as other childhood memories of the local gala.

‘‘The local schools took it in turn to select the queen and court for the gala, and that year it was St Paul’s,’’ explains Mrs Hurren. ‘‘As only East Calder children were eligible to be members of the court, and as I was the only East Calder girl at St Paul’s that year, I was the only one who was eligible.’’ So she was formally chosen by the Headmaster Mr O’Houlon. It was usually the headmaster’s task to select the gala queen for his school. ‘‘It caused a lot of jealously amongst the other girls!’’ laughs Mrs Hurren, the strife and jealously of the other 14 year old girls in 1930 still fresh in her memory.

Mrs Elizabeth Hurren

"My mother took me to Glasgow to buy a long white dress, and then had to take it to a dress maker to have it shortened so I could wear it.’’ The gala was an opportunity for everyone to dress up. The queen and her court wore their regal dresses bought specially for the occasion, and everyone always wore their Sunday best for the gala. You were not likely to find the comfortable shorts and t-shirts of today - Mrs Hurren remembers one year having a new brown velvet dress and a cream straw hat with cream ribbons. 

She was crowned in the grounds of St Paul’s by a prominent local lady called Mrs Smith. The queen was usually given a gift of a watch or a piece of jewellery, but Mrs Smith gave Elizabeth the option of having a photographer come and take a group picture of them instead. On her mother’s wise advice, Elizabeth chose the group picture as being a long-lasting souvenir rather than a watch or someting that might get lost or broken. And her mother was right - she still treasures the photograph today and can remember the names and details of all the children who are pictured with her. The black and white photograph she showed me belies the bright colours of the day - her red cloak, the dresses of her ladies, the costumes of the gentlemen of the court, the decorated dais and the flowers, which are all clearly vivid to Mrs Hurren as she recites the names of all the children there.

The gala parade took roughly the same route then as it takes now. She was driven in an open lorry with her ladies in waiting and flower girls beside her, down Langton Road and along the Main Street to Almondell Park where the gala events were held - as today, there were races, dancing and pipe bands and of course stalls selling sweets and lemonade. The queen and her ladies were given free lemonade as a treat. Her grandmother
usually had a stall at the gala and Elizabeth always headed there where she knew she’d get a generous serve!
All the children received a gala bag full of goodies from local traders, and Mrs Hurren remembers that the year she was queen, ‘‘I was far too excited to eat anything and was afraid of getting crumbs on my dress and hands!’’

Many people decorated their houses for gala week, and Mrs Hurren’s house was no exception. She lived in a house in the area near what is now Burnside Terrace. The year she was queen, the family next door of 5 or 6 boys helped her family to decorate the house fit for a queen. 

After leaving St Paul’s that year, Elizabeth went on to work locally. She had various jobs in East Calder with local businesses. 

In common with the many other village galas in Scotland, East Calder gala was an important event in the annual calendar. It still is today, but put in the context of a time when holidays were rare and certainly overseas holidays almost unheard of for most people, this week of celebrations and its culmination in gala day was an eagerly awaited event. Sometimes officially called ‘‘‘Children’s Gala’’, for many children this was the closest to a holiday they would get in the year and the adults expended a lot of effort to make it a good one.

Gala days and civic weeks (the week running up to the gala day) are steeped in customs and traditions, and are strongly related to mining villages. Galas as we know them today are actually relatively recent, dating from the mining heydey of the area. There were often two gala days, one in May to celebrate the miners’ one-day holiday and the other in June. However, they are also usually a continuation of much older community traditions. Each has a different history, the details of which are mostly lost today, but linked to  different aspects of a community’s past. Some of the galas are continuations of commercial fairs based on the farming trade (such as the twice yearly Mid Cauther Fair). The West Calder Fair started out as an agricultural
trade fair, then a ‘‘sweetie and groset (agricultural) fair’’ among the children, then later became a sporting event, before dying out after the Second World War. The tradition of a Queen of May is of ancient date in
Scotland, a celebration to herald the arrival of spring and to hope for a good season to come. The Queen of May, her maids of honour, captain and his officers were entertained with dancing, music and races. Many local galas had been running a few years before the queen was introduced, which suggests a blending of the long-held tradition of Queens of May with the more recent gala tradition.

Elizabeth Hurren is actually one of only a small handful of East Calder gala queens - she was the third after the court was introduced in 1928, and there were just a couple of queens after her until the practice was stopped; whilst the gala has continued each year, hard times in the 30s made it harder to keep up the full court.
It has been revived this year by the energies of a small group of East Calder residents, in keeping with the children’s gala tradition - wholly for the benefit of the local children

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