The History and Traditions of Eyemouth Herring Queen
The Peace Picnic
To mark the end of the 1914-1918 war a “peace picnic” sometimes known as the fishermen’s picnic was held annually at Gunsgreen. The children marched around the town to the picnic area at Gunsgreen. Families brought along their own kettles the tea was served from urns and the children took along their own tin cups. Races were held during the day and fun was had by all. The day was celebrated throughout the years and was looked on as a local holiday.
James “Storey” Collin, who was Eyemouth’s harbour master at this time, was holidaying in the North of Scotland when he seen a Festival that included the crowing of a Queen. He then brought this idea back to the committee who organised the picnic. They too felt that the crowning of a Queen would be a worthwhile addition to the peace picnic and would not only be of interest to the young people of the town, but could also be a ceremony symbolic of the ideals of a fishing community.
The First Herring Queen
The first Herring Queen was crowned in July 1939 the first girl to be given the honour was Mary Craig. The event stopped during the war years. Mary Craig remained the Herring Queen until she crowned Ann Rosie in 1946.
The Herring Queen and her Maids were originally chosen by their scholastic ability at Eyemouth High School and then by popular vote by their school peers. Since 2001 the Herring Queen has been chosen by a panel of local townspeople.
Herring Queen Day and Procession
The Queen arrives by sea at Eyemouth Harbour. Originally the Queen’s boat was chosen by ballot and the skippers of the fleet were asked annually to nominate a girl to be a member of the Queen’s court so each boat had a representative taking part on the crowning day. The first boat to be chosen in 1939 was the Spes Bona.
Originally the Skipper escorted the Queen to the shore were he handed her over to representatives of the town to escort her to the Ceremony, this duty now falls upon the skipper.
The Court Procession which awaits the Queen has seen some changes over the years, the early processions were arranged in the following manner:-
Three boys wore the traditional navy blue “gansy” and “breeks” of the fishermens garb, carried between them a model of a lifeboat.
They were followed by eight or twelve girls and six boys carrying a model of an Eyemouth fishing boat to portray the Scottish Fishing Fleet.
Then came the Queen’s flower girls a group of small girls each bearing garlands and flower emblems. They were dressed in a rainbow of colours and each child wore a silver net cape and silver ribbons.
Then followed members of the court. The Bearer of the Queen’s Pennant which was presented to the boat with the highest catch during the Queen’s week. The Bearer of the Cipher a crown topped initial of the Queen’s name in flowers. Immediately in front of the Queen came the Bearer of the Sceptre which carriers the replica of an anchor and a length of silver silken cable. Then came the bearers of the Queen’s crown which was carried to the ceremony and rests when not worn by the Queen on a sea blue cushion placed in a small “scull”. The scull was handmade and was an exact replica of that used by fishermen when they carried their fishing lines to and from their boats.
The Queen approached the dais escorted by the Gentlemen who received her for the town. Her pages walked before her they were three small white clad sailors. Her robe was carried by three small girls. The robe was blue velvet lined with blue grey satin symbolic of the sea. The robe was veiled by an outer covering of net.
The Maids of Honour complete the Queen’s procession. They walked behind the Queen in a formation representing the points of the compass. This would symbolise winds from all points of the compass which are fair and favourable to seamen everywhere. Each maid carried an emblem representing the blessings of life, a Basket of Fruit, a sheaf for fruitful harvest of corn lilies of faith and the dove of peace. As headdresses the Maids wore silver haloes the design for these was taken from a sculpture of St Ebba the Patron Saint of the fishermen on the South East Coast. The maids wore long capes of silver herring net tied with silver ribbons.
The Queen’s procession was followed by the retiring Queen’s procession, she was accompanied by the skipper of the boat who had brought her into port the previous year, and it was his proud duty to escort her when she completed her year by crowning her successor.
The procession has been adapted from the original over the years and is now as follows: Lifeboat boys, Heralds, Retiring Queens court- sailors, queen, trainbearers, maids (maids at points of a compass, in order of height with following emblems in order – dove, fruit, corn, lilies), Posy girls, Gift Bearers and Presenters, Herring Queen’s cypher , Sceptre, Crown and Queens court (in same order as retiring Queens court).
The ceremony was held at Gunsgreen until 1996 when the deep water basin was built. The ceremony moved to the harbour side in 1997 and then the harbour car park.
For many years following the crowning ceremony the Queen’s procession toured the streets of the town and wreaths were laid on the War Memorial and the Memorial to the Fishermen of Eyemouth who were lost at sea during the Disaster of 1881.
When attending official events Queen wears full regalia: which includes crown, cloak and sceptre, none of those should be worn separately. At informal events that do not require full regalia, sash must be worn by the Herring Queen. The Queen’s dress must be floor length and must not be sleeveless, the colour of which is traditionally a well guarded secret until crowning day.
Applicants must be a girl attending Eyemouth High School year three, have attended Eyemouth Primary, and must have lived in Eyemouth for over ten years.
The process starts in October when candidates are given a talk in school by representatives of the EHQ Committee and a pack containing all the relevant information they require to help make the decision as to whether or not they would like to stand for election. They are then asked to submit their application along with relevant police checks, which comply with the child protection policies, to the chairperson of the selection panel.
Our chairperson is not on the committee but is the President of our organisation. The EHQ Committee have no say in who is chosen to make up the selection panel from the organisations approached, they merely make the initial contact with the groups to ask to send a representative. The chairman of the panel then deals with the process.
The panel are then selected from representatives from different groups and organisations within the town. Different ones are written to every year. Each of the groups/ organisations, are then asked by the Herring Queen Committee to send a representative, who has no connection with any of the girls who are eligible to apply. These representatives then form the panel. The EHQ committee must not know who are on the panel until selection night. All the girls are then interviewed by the panel who decide beforehand, the questions they want to ask. All the candidates are interviewed on the same evening and asked the same set of questions. They are then given marks for each question, and on the information contained in their application form, by each individual member of the panel. The marks are then added up at the end of the interviews and the highest scoring girl is chosen as Eyemouth Herring Queen thus insuring no single member of the panel can sway the outcome.
The panel and the committee take this process very seriously and all the girls must be accompanied by their parents during the interviews.
Every precaution is taken to make sure the process is fair and unbiased.
Information provided by EHQ 2003 Kerrie Lindsay.