Newhaven Gala Days

— #10 Victoria School

Overview Class Photographs Newhaven Gala Days Fisherwomen’s Choir The Braws

A Cause For Celebration

Each year, usually towards the end of May or the beginning of June depending on the tides, Newhaven celebrates the crowning of the Gala Queen and Fisher King, a celebration for children and their families.

There have been no Gala Days during the Covid pandemic and, in 2022, Newhaven’s Victoria School moved from Main St to its new premises on Western Harbour.   It is certain that the important community event of a Children’s Gala Day will once more be held as soon as circumstances permit.

The Five Queens

In the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation (1953), a special event was held in Starbank Park when Jean Cowie was crowned Newhaven’s Sea Queen in front of a huge gathering of Newhaveners and in the presence of Saint Margaret who was queen of Scots from 1070—1093; Margaret Tudor, wife of Newhaven’s founder, James IV (1503—1513); Mary, Queen of Scots from 1542—1567 (executed 1587); and Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901.


5_1129 The Five Queens Coronation 1953, Newhaven's Gala Day in Starbank Park. L to R : Ronald McKechnie, (unknown), Carol Armstrong, Maureen Linton, (unknown), Hugh Stevenson, Sandra Henderson

The Gala Day Recreated

The Newhaven Action Group had been effectively bringing pressure for retaining important elements of old Newhaven, to resist the headlong rush for modernity by councillors and officials of the Edinburgh Corporation (as it then was).  A Community Council, under the chairmanship of Frank Ferri, was formed to bring cohesion to the residents, old and new, of the village after its redevelopment. The Gala Day was one of its initiatives.

In 1984, as part of the campaign to save Victoria School from closure due to falling pupil numbers, the newly-formed Newhaven Community Council created this new annual festival.

But Newhaven has always found opportunities for community celebration, from Penny Weddings (Route Stop #3), fund-raising pageants for Leith Hospital (Route Stop #7) and other good causes, as well as major national events such as the Queen’s Coronation. 

Newhaven Gala Day about 1988 in Fishmarket Square — Queen Lynsey. The Queen's entourage is dressed in colourful splendour with the girls wearing fishwives' braws and the boys wearing yellow sou'westers.

Gala Queen and Fisher King

The Gala Queen and her retinue accompanied by the Fisher King and his aides, arrive by boat at the harbour at high tide on a Saturday in late May or early June.  There, they are greeted by their escort of fisherlassies and fisherladdies and the Queen’s Piper.

E_GD19_553 The Queen's Launch arrives in the harbour with the Royal entourage aboard.

A Grand Procession

The Pulse of the Place, Newhaven’s samba band, leads the grand procession along Main Street to the place of the coronation  (until now, the playground of the old Victoria School) where the ceremony takes place along with various award presentations.  This is followed by an opportunity for members of the community to mix.

E_GD19 562 The Pulse of the Place, Newhaven's Samba Band

Centenary Pageant

Despite the austerity of the World War 2 years, 1944 was a notable year for the school since it marked the centenary of its founding. Amongst the many events to commemorate the occasion, the grandest were the performances of “The Pageant of Newhaven” at the Usher Hall. The entire school was taken to the Hall for the dress rehearsal, which was followed by two showings on the following days  2 and 3 June.

The pageant was opened by the Rt Hon Ernest Brown, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leith’s MP whose address to the children included the statement (referring to the traditional fishwives’ costumes): ‘Don’t forget that your grandmothers’ and mothers’ uniform is much more valuable than the very latest fripperies of the very best of modern film artistes.”  The headmaster was Thomas Butcher, the producer Campbell White and the dialogue was adapted from a script by Miss Janet Smith. The proceeds from the occasion, some £2000, went to Leith Hospital, with former pupils from many distant lands sending a stream of contributions.

6_3070 Some of the pupils in period dress for one of the tableaux for Victoria Primary School's Centenary Pageant in June 1944