Archive photo of a group of around a dozen young teenagers dressed in medieval and renaissance regalia. The girls wear crowns and sashes, the boys wear cloaks and page boy outfits.

For many generations Gala Days have been held in towns throughout West Lothian, including Armadale, Whitburn and Fauldhouse. However, as a Bathgate resident, I wanted to dig into the longstanding tradition of my adopted home.

When I arrived as an immigrant 18 years ago, the procession and Gala Day just seemed like the Fourth of July parades, or other local celebrations I had previously attended in the USA.

In Bathgate, the community comes together for a procession. There’s music, food, shows and activities in Meadow Park afterwards. Many people decorate their houses with bunting displays. Yet I have come to appreciate that there is much more to it than that.

Historical beginnings

The inaugural Procession (or parade) was held in 1844 to honour John Newlands. Newlands was a wealthy gentleman with connections to the sugar and slave trade in Jamaica. His bequest provided funds for the construction of the old Bathgate Academy that opened in 1833.

A large classical style building. There is a clock tower in the centre flanked by two wings with columns and classical statues on the roof.

Old Bathgate Academy. Take a closer look on Canmore. (© Crown Copyright: HES)

The Academy was initially the starting place for the procession, which in later years would be extended past the previous West Lothian Council building along Glasgow Road.

A large modern building. The brick walls appear slab like and are broken up at intervals by narrow full length windows.

Lindsay House, Bathgate. (Photograph by Richard Jaques. Courtesy of HES)

Growing interest

Bathgate itself, and participation in the Procession has grown over the years. New roles were added to celebrate more aspects of Bathgate’s history. This photograph from 1924 shows students from Bathgate Academy dressed as Princess Marjorie, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, and her husband Walter Lord High Steward of Scotland, who was granted Bathgate Castle upon their marriage.

A young woman and a young man wear medieval fancy dress. They sit on a small stage and women in 1920s clothing look on.

In 1924 Grace Telfer and Quentin Bisset, two senior pupils of Bathgate Academy, were chosen to take the parts of Walter the High Steward, and Princess Marjory. (© St John’s Church, Bathgate. Licensor

Bathgate Castle appears on the coat of arms for the town. The only visible remains of it can be found in aerial photography of the local golf course.

An aerial image which shows circular earthworks of a fort in the grass of a golf course.

From the air, you can see the site of Bathgate Castle. Two ditches surrounding the mound mark where the fortress once stood. Explore more on Canmore. (© Crown Copyright: HES)


Many local school children have fond memories of the Gala Day. Walking with their classmates, serving as flower girls, pages, heralds and ladies-in-waiting, or riding atop one of the decorated floats in the procession are all ways that the local children can get involved.

An archive photo of a procession of well-dressed primary school aged children supervised by a teacher and a policeman.

St. Mary’s Primary School march during Bathgate Gala Day in 1961 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

An archive photo of spectators lining both sides of a town street as a pipe band marches past, followed by a lorry which has been lavishly decorated with flowers to create a carnival float.

The Windyknowe Primary School parade float at a parade in the 1960s (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

Archive photo of a group of around a dozen young teenagers dressed in medieval and renaissance regalia. The girls wear crowns and sashes, the boys wear cloaks and page boy outfits.

Principal characters in the 1962 parade (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

Community pride

The Gala Day and the procession has always provided the people of Bathgate with the opportunity to show off their very best outfits, creativity in decorating their homes, and ways in which they can represent their school, business, club, or community pride!

Three secondary school aged girls posing with bikes which have been decorated with flowers and coloured paper for a gala day

Bathgate Gala Day 1954 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

A crowd of young onlookers watch as three girls dressed as fairies pose for the camera on what looks to be a rather wet gala day.

The fairies, Bathgate Gala Day 1961. (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

A group of children standing on some garden steps. Two are dressed as fairies, wearing wings and clutching magic wands. Others are very smartly dressed and are holding small union flags.

Children in fancy dress, 1960. (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

A flute band in black uniforms taking part in a parade

A band at Bathgate Gala Day 1961 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

A band made up of men and boys of all ages posing cheerily in their uniforms with their instruments including trumpets, trombones and drums.

Bathgate Public Band, 1960 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

Associated activities

When I think of the Gala Day, there are many other traditional and fun things that come to mind. There has almost always been a set of arches constructed in the town centre. We have a spectacular early photo of a massive five-arch display in our archive.

A historic photograph showing townspeople posing under five enormous temporary arches decorated with flags and flowers. They have been erected across a town street.

Newland’s Day Arch, 1908 (© West Lothian Council Libraries, licensed via Scran)

No Gala Day can be held without a wake-up call from the drummers! Beginning at 6am they walk the streets playing a simple beat that signals the big day has finally arrived, and it’s time to start getting ready.

An archive photo of six drummers walking down a town street

The walk around town for the drummers of Bathgate Public Band 1961. (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

The house decorating competition is fierce every year. Nowadays there are multiple judging categories and lots of Disney-oriented themes, but the traditional way is to create a spruce arch and use crepe paper flowers.

A young lady dressed in a regal-looking velvet robes and a golden crown leaves her house via a arch decorated with flowers. Her family are leaning out of the door.

Princess Marjorie leaves home for the pageant in 1965 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

Local officials or persons of some notoriety deliver an oration. Essentially this is someone giving a speech, and it’s often combined with handing out awards to volunteers and other heroes of the community.

An archive photo of a gala event in a school or community hall. A man is giving a speech from behind a lectern. Others dressed in regal costumes are sitting on wooden thrones.

Bathgate Gala Day 1961 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

Where there are music and people, there must be a dance! In years gone by the place to be seen was the Co-op Hall. Now it’s the ‘Gala Day park’ where there are multiple stages, food booths, entertainment displays, and fireworks at the end of the night:

Young people with distinctive 1960s haircuts look up at a camera from a packed dance floor

Gala Day Dance in the Co-op Hall, 1960 (© The Scotsman Publications Ltd, licensed via Scran)

My impressions

As I stood in the sunshine on the Glasgow Road for the 2024 Gala Day, I listened in to conversations around me. I realised I was in ‘our spot.’ For many years now I have been meeting up with the same friends, in the very same location, to watch the procession together. It is an inherited spot, as it started with my friend’s dad, whose house was just a few doors down. And the beauty of it is that everyone else also has memories of their own spot!

You can see parents proudly taking photos of their kids as they go past in the procession, and neighbours cheerfully chat to one another as they rush back home to get their BBQs started. In a town that has grown significantly in recent times, it is a good feeling to know that these community events are working hard to be inclusive, and are still bringing people together in so many positive ways.

A modern day Gala Day parade being led by flag bearers. A large banner reads "a community celebration our hearts we hold"

Bathgate Gala Day 2024 (Author’s photo)

The amazing archive photos used in this blog are from Scran and Canmore. SCRAN is our online learning service. It contains over 400,000 images and media from museums, galleries and archives from across Scotland and beyond.

Canmore is the online catalogue for the National Record of the Historic Environment. Here you can find images and records relating to the architecture, archaeology, industrial and maritime heritage of Scotland.

About the author

Mindy Lynch works as an Archivist in the HES Archive. She regularly answers enquiries and assists members of the public with navigating the millions of records we hold relating to Scotland’s historic environment.


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