Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! A bolt from the blue. No Marches this year.

That’s how local journalist, Robert Fleming, writing in his Broadcastings by Radio column in the West Lothian Courier, broke the news that the 1926 Marches had been cancelled.

He echoed the feelings of many when he wrote:

“That there is keen disappointment at the cancellation, even temporarily, of the old-world pageant, goes without saying. But when authority decrees, populaces must bow to the inevitable”.

Robert Fleming was no stranger to the Marches. Hailing originally from Bathgate, where he trained as a printer, his later journalistic career took him to Aberdeenshire, where he married in 1880. He returned to West Lothian and in 1883, became the Linlithgow correspondent for the Falkirk Herald. When that newspaper’s owners decided to establish a separate Linlithgow publication – the Linlithgowshire Gazette – in 1891, he was ideally placed to become the paper’s guiding spirit and editor, a position he retained until 1913. In 1926, at the age of 70, he was back working in Linlithgow as the Courier’s local reporter.

Fleming was a talented poet and his weekly reports were often accompanied by topical verses, none more so than at the Marches time, where his poems and songs were famous.

Na, na ma freen ye needna fear

Nor need ye fret or worry

The Marches Day, or ah’m mistaen

Will no fade in a hurry

Mair modern fete ye micht weel plan

Rear big triumphal arches

And captivate youth’s fancy, but

Auld Lithca likes the Marches


The Marches of 1926 were scheduled for June 15th, but had been in some doubt, due to the industrial and financial situation arising from the on-going effects of the miners’ strike and the resultant General Strike. The miners were still in dispute, coal stocks were low, and money was tight everywhere. A meeting of Linlithgow Town Council on Tuesday May 25th confirmed that the time-honoured ceremony would go ahead, albeit with one band less, and there were high hopes that the public would respond generously to the annual door-to-door collection for the Marches.  However, just a week later on June 1st, the Town Council declared that there would be no Marches Day, as the Chief Constable could not guarantee police cover and would not take serving officers away from policing the coal field on that day. Under the Emergency Powers Act, which had been used during the General Strike, the police had the power to ban gatherings of people. The Town Council feared that they would be in breach of the law if they proceeded to hold the Marches and felt that the only course of action available to them was to cancel.

The Marches had been revived in great style in 1919, following the years of the Great War when it didn’t take place, and locals were shocked to hear that the old-time pageant would be cancelled again. Robert Fleming reported on a protest that took place the evening after the decision:

“A demonstration, which was marked with a good deal of good-natured banter, was held on the Cross Brae on Wednesday night.  The obvious object of the gathering was to give expression to the public feeling regarding the decision of the Town Council to abandon the town’s Marches this year”.

“The meeting was summoned by bell, the duty being performed by Mr David Dodds, who paraded the High Street, inviting the inhabitants to ‘roll up in their motor cars and side cars, etc’. to attend the meeting. The appeal was eminently successful so far as numbers were concerned, as in a short space of time a crowd of both men and women assembled on the Brae in front of the Burgh Buildings. From the outset, hilarity was a feature of the gathering, but withal, the interest and earnestness manifested in the object of the meeting viz, to protest against the action of the Council, was unquestionable”.

After one speaker declared that “the Sons of the Black Bitch were not going to take the action of the Town Council lying down”, a “very large crowd assembled outside the Provost’s house”. The Provost, local ironmonger, John Hebson, who lived above  his shop at 68 High Street, saw some of the protesters and advised them to “put down on paper what they wanted and give it to the Town Clerk”.  A further meeting was held on the Thursday night and a petition was organised and presented to the Town Clerk. The protests were to no avail, however, and a special Town Council meeting on Tuesday June 8th re-affirmed the earlier decision. There would be no Marches riding. As he had done for many years, Robert Fleming expressed his sentiments in verse:

There’s nae Marches noo, ma freens

Nae Mairches noo

Whelps and Daws are grievin aw

There’s nae Marches noo


Bauldie’s powney stands forlorn

Bauldie’s wae, I troo

Sair he wails at Harry’s door

There’s nae Marches noo


The puir Black Bitch is said misgien

Heavy is her broo

She canna rest nor nicht nor day –

There’s nae Marches noo


The “Roke an’ Row’s” a funeral knell

Makin folk’s heids boo

A dirge comes fae the auld toon bell

There’s nae Marches noo


Oyez! Oyez! – the weans atwell

At Mithers’ aprons pu’

They canna unnerstan’ for why

There’s nae Marches noo


At Lithca Brig there’s nocht but dool-

Nane ken why or hoo

The “loving cup” nae mair is seen

There’s nae Marches noo


“Cakes an’ wine” at aul’ Blackness –

E’en the mountain dew

For ae twalmonth ye winna pree –

There’s nae Marches noo


Chorus –

There’s nae Marches noo, ma freens

Nae Marches noo!

Whelp an’ Daw are wailin’ aw

There’s nae Marches noo!


Preparations had been going on for weeks and there were reports that the usual sprucing-up of premises and whitewashing of closes was well in hand. The customary installation of Deacons and ‘My Lords’ by local works had started on Saturday May 22nd, when the engineers and carters of William Aitken’s transport firm at Stockbridge had “lifted” their respective Deacons from Mrs Drinnan’s  West Port Hotel and paraded along the High Street behind Linlithgow Pipe Band. The following Saturday, the members and supporters of Linlithgow Rose F.C. did the same thing, from the Custom House Hotel.

With no Marches to look forward to, local people could escape from the daily grind when one of the country’s most famous circuses came to town on Monday June 7th. Advertisements offered a spectacular event at the Mains Park:

“See PIMPO at Lord John Sanger’s Circus!

See the Indian Whirlwind Riders, Giant Elephants, Dancing Horses of all nations, Comical Kangaroos, Super-Human Sea Lions, Deadly Snakes, Daring Feats in mid-air, Royal Cream Horses, Comedy Rodeo, 20 Star Turns. BRITAIN HAS NEVER SEEN SUCH A SHOW!”

The Sanger family circuses had been famous since Victorian times and had even enjoyed the patronage of the Queen herself. In the 1920s, the family tradition was being carried on by ‘Lord’ John Sanger, the son of one of the founders, and a major crowd-puller was the legendary clown PIMPO – real name James Freeman. He was considered to be among the greatest clowns of all time, and for many spectators he was the highlight of the show. His agility and versatility were legendary, as he was as much at home with the artistes on the flying trapeze as on the sawdust.

Pimpo and the circus were regular visitors to Scotland. In later years, one Helensburgh spectator recalled:

: “The one figure who remains distinctly in my memory is Pimpo the clown.

“I can see him now, sitting in a motor car, strapped to an elephant’s back, giving the hooter spasmodic blasts, while he raucously hailed the ringmaster, his diminutive figure clad in oversized dress-suit, a mass of ginger hair sprouting from the top of his head, and an enormous bow-tie.”

Pimpo’s antics, which included boxing with a kangaroo and dancing with a horse called ‘Sport’, no doubt brought great pleasure to the Linlithgow crowd.




Their spirits were further lifted the following Saturday, when the local Pipe Band accompanied the triumphant Rose team along the High Street with the County Cup they had won earlier that day at Newtown Park, Bo’ness. The trophy joined the Thornton Shield on the Rose sideboard. Alas, there would be no opportunity to parade the prizes on Marches Day.

June 1926 was very wet, and Robert Fleming reported:

“The tears of June, the month of roses. To date it has been rain, rain, and more rain every day. The auld Lithca bodies, in their disappointment, declare that the rain has been sent as a judgement for the stopping of the Marches”.

Despite the cancellation, the Courier reporter found that many were still determined to have some kind of celebration:

“‘If we hivna the Mairches, we hiv the Mairches Day, so here’s tae ye!’ That was one of the comments heard on Tuesday, but there were others unprintable. It was surprising the number of whelps (of the Black Bitch) who found their way to their home town, simply because it was the Marches Day”.

There was an unofficial OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ! proclamation on the Friday, when local worthies, Davie Dodds and Rab Haigie, processed in fancy dress from the Low to the West Port, followed by a group of schoolchildren. Robert Fleming did not approve of what he described as “burlesquing the grand old custom” and thundered:

“This year, the ‘Crying of the Marches’ was performed in mockery. The clownish show caused some to laugh, but only some. The thinking classes of the community, while regretting the circumstances necessitating the departure this year, were not disposed to make fun of it”.

Robert Fleming bemoaned the lack of the usual hustle and bustle of a Marches morning and described the scene as people gathered:

“A good many visitors, mostly natives of the town, had arrived by morning trains and buses and towards the forenoon, groups of people assembled in the neighbourhood of the Cross and either side of the High Street….meanwhile, the Linlithgow Pipe Band and that old favourite, Kinneil Reed Band, appeared on the scene and, being a holiday, each had a large following.

“After parading the town and marching to Linlithgow Bridge…, they returned to the Cross Brae, where they took up a position reminiscent of old times. Here in turn they played selections, including the indispensable ‘Roke and Wee Pickle Tow’, to the evident delight of the people assembled. At the West Port, as a mark of appreciation of their visit, the Kinneil bandsmen were hospitably entertained”.

At Blackness, the incumbent Baron Bailie, William Spence, laid a wreath at the war memorial on behalf of himself and Provost John Hebson, as did Mrs Spence, on behalf of the Deacon of the Fraternity of Dyers, Alex Spence.  The position of Baron Bailie would be held in future years by Robert Fleming’s son, grandson and great-grandson.

In 1927, the Marches returned in great triumph, with renewed optimism and interest, and Provost Hebson led what was described by the local press as “the finest procession in years”.