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The first Victorian Day

The first Victorian Day of recent times took place on the 22nd June 1979. The following text appeared in the Ross Shire Journal.

"Than Strathpeffer Spa there is no lovelier village in the whole of the land and last Saturday on a day of glorious sunshine, thanks to the great amount of work put in by its inhabitants, its charm was added to in the fascinating Victorian Fair held in the square and the Pavilion Gardens and Pump Room. For the older generation the years rolled away and here was the famous old Spa at the zenith of its popularity. The large crowd who turned out to savour the attractions were reminiscent of the throngs of visitors who used to daily parade in the Square and the gardens. For the others it recaptured in perfect detail the elegance and the bustle of the Spa in Victorian Times. Among those taking part and attending were descendants of the original old Spa families, who did so much to establish and popularise the village around the slopes of Ulladale, including the popular Earl and Countess of Cromartie, whose family connection with the Spa as Superiors and otherwise has been of long standing.

There was something to please everyone, young and old, on Saturday afternoon. There were rows of stalls and booths displaying Victorian goods, eatables, household effects, antiques, a gingerbread stall, fine cheeses, butcher’s stall, toys, etc., all the stallholders dresses in the garb of the period, with many a frill and flounce and pretty bonnet to help attract a good trade. Nor did the visitors let the side down, several being attired in splendid Victorian ensembles, with all the accessories for which the era was notable.

The whole picture was greatly enhanced by the lively playing of period music by the band, conducted by Mr Arthur Brocklebank, Highland Region Director of Music. There were sideshows galore, none more popular perhaps than Punch and Judy; coconut shies, tight-rope walking, pony rides, etc. The displays of old vehicles, the de Dion Bouton car, in magnificent condition, and the old penny farthing, and other early cycles, drew many admirers.

Certainly one of the most fascinating corners of the Fair was the splendid and wide-ranging exhibition of Victorian photographs showing in excellently reproduced detail aspects of the village in bygone days. Personalities shown included the 1st Earl of Cromartie and his Countess, and a fine study of the late Dr M W Bruce, The Castle, Dingwall, MOH for Ross, and one of the early pioneers in the development of the village as a Spa. Also shown are several of the handsome hotels and villas, many of them built of local stone, to meet the needs of the then rapidly developing tourist trade. Lists of the guests, some of them national figures, which appeared each week in the columns of the Ross Shire Journal were also of much interest. It is of interest to recall that a royal visitor to the Spa in Victorian days, was the Duchess of Teck, mother of the late Queen Mary who stayed at the well known Spa Hotel (now no more) beautifully situated at the western approached to the village. Her Royal Highness planted a tree in the grounds to mark her visit with an inscribed tablet attached. The photographic exhibition necessitated many weeks of careful and painstaking work by Mr John Crawford, Principal Advisor in Art and Design for the Highland region, with material from private family collections. It will remain a venue of great interest for visitors throughout the season. None should miss it.

There was a thrill for the crowd, when the Victorian Fire Brigade raced into action with their primitive hand-worked machine to tackle a blaze in the car park. Despite a leaky hose, which gave the brigade a thorough drenching, they went to work with a will and soon had the outbreak under control.

An entrancing little cameo was the competition for the best dressed Victorian child, and pretty they indeed were, making the task of the judges, Colonel and Mrs Olaf Macleod, Gorse Hill, Jamestown, and Mrs M Fulton, Fodderty, extremely difficult. One felt each little entrant deserved to win a prize. The results were: Under 5 – 1. Dawn Macbeth; 2. Helen Maclennan. Under 7 – 1. Lois Humphreys; 2. William Spark. Under 9 – 1. Jacqueline Ross; 2. Helen Buchan. Over 9 – 1. eq, Melanie Blair and Gavnor McCallum.

To round off the day’s proceedings, an enjoyable Victorian Dinner was held in the Ben Wyvis Hotel.

The organisers of this highly successful Victorian Fair are congratulated on its success and the expertise displayed in its production, and the hope is that it will become an annual event at Strathpeffer Spa."