Long ago in Garmouth at the Cross villagers came together to enjoy a market fair, held always in June there were stalls laid out of fruit, vegetables including new potatoes all grown locally, People vied to sell their crops of strawberries. There were sellers of fish caught from nearby river Spey. The air was warm and full of sounds of mirth and cries of ‘come buy, good Sirs and ladies’. Farmers stood in groups conversing about past harvests while farm workers looked after horses for sale. Young men strove to prove their skills in bouts of boxing, encouraged by their friends. The womenfolk’ clustered round stalls selling fresh cakes, buns and farm produce of cheese and butter. Peddlers stood gesturing with streams of colourful ribbons wound around their fingers, whilst at their feet were trays of trinkets and combs.
In the midst of this bustle, a shout was heard which caused the crowd to part, “Make way, make way, if you please” A groom was striding forward, leading horses as they pulled a carriage carrying the Laird of Innes and his Lady who leaned out waving to the folk who curtseyed or bowed in return. The carriage stopped outside one of the tall houses just down the Brae, near the Cross-, this was the Lairds town house, and they swept in the doorway out of sight. Presently a group of horsemen well dressed in appearance approached the house. More grooms rushed to hold the horses, and lead them to the stables nearby.
The gentlemen gazed around wondering at the crowd about them then shrugging their shoulders, they trooped into the Lairds town house. The crowds waited a while to see what more was happening, and then as nothing did, they resumed their enjoyment of the fair.
In the town house, the gentlemen had gathered in an upstairs room with a balcony overlooking the river Spey and the Sea beyond. There was an exited buzz of conversation as they waited. One strode out to the balcony to peer out of a telescope erected on the balcony,” See anything yet, my Lord?” they would demand.
Suddenly there was a triumphant shout “ There it is!” All eyes were on the sea line. A ship was slowing coming into view. “By Jove, at last”. Away Sir John Lord Innes shook hands with his guests in excitement. He swallowed a glass of wine offered him by a servant who was holding a tray of glasses by way of refreshment for his guests, then bidding them adieu, he clattered down the stairs, speaking quickly to Lady Margaret, he left the house. The carriage was still waiting for him and without a word he boarded it. The groom jumped on to the front seat, took up the reins and flicked the whip, calling out” Make way, make way if you please.”
It was a little time before he could hurry the horses through the crowd, which good-naturedly made room. Down the Brae, the carriage and the horses went, and followed the road along the river till they reached the coastline. A few fishermen’s cottages was all the habitation there but the occupants were out in force, watching the progress of the strange ship. “It’s a French Brigette” one person declared. Soon it hovered just off the shore. Sir John could make out a distinguished passenger in a foreign style of dress, speaking to the Captain. There apparently was some difficulty for the passenger to disembark. The Captain did not dare to come nearer to the shoreline for fear the ship would be stuck-fast in the shallow water. Understanding the situation a big fisherman called Milne waded into the water to the ship, on reaching it, he addressed the gentleman with one word ”Loup” gesturing for him to leap on his back. The gentleman looked aghast but the Captain encouraged him to do so, to cheers of the waiting crowd, he was borne ashore and let down safely.
Facing the ill clad spectators he was relieved to see a horse and carriage awaiting him with a gentleman climbing down to greet him.
“Your highness, welcome” he said with a low bow, “Please let me convey you to my house up the road to meet my associates. I am Sir John, Laird Innes.” Thankfully, the stranger made his way to the carriage and allowed himself to be driven along the road, marveling at the pleasant countryside after days at sea.
Once more the crowd at Garmouth made way for the Carriage, as soon as it reached the Lairds town house, the stranger was ushered through the doorway. In the vestibule Lady Margaret was waiting, she curtseyed low and asked his permission to lead him up the stairs where the company was waiting. Sir John had paused to speak to his groom then followed on upstairs, the Prince entered announced into the room the excited chatter died away.
The Prince acknowledged their bows and motioned them to sit. A big chair and writing desk was indicated a servant rushed up with a tray to offer him some refreshment, he sat down, taking a glass and asked for introductions.
Outside the crowd strained to await the next flurry of activity. Much speculation about the newcomer hung in the air, “He was a spy, a French one perhaps.” “He was an outlaw, maybe an escaped prisoner!” Their patience was rewarded, after half an hour when he emerged from the Lairds House the laird who went instantly to the carriage to summon the groom, Lady Margaret who was cheered by the crowd as she waved, and the stranger who hesitated in alarm at the noise. Seeing the friendly faces he released and smiled back. “Speak to them Sire” urged Lady Margaret as she stepped forward. “Come and mingle for they are good loyal folk enjoying their fair day”. The visitor stepped hesitatingly forward and surveyed their wares.
He watched Lady Margaret receiving a bouquet and to his surprise, received one as well which he handed to Lady Margaret in a courtly manner. “God bless you sir” said one old woman as he turned to climb into the carriage.
He doffed his hat to her and she curtseyed. Sir John joined him in the carriage, nodded to the groom who raised his whip calling out ”Make way, make way if you please.” A moment later the carriage had passed through the crowd and was out of sight, Lady Margaret clasped her hands emotionally and turned to her gentlemen guests who by now were leaving and calling for their mounts, “ did he sign the Covenant” she asked eagerly “ It’s alright, he did” one of them assured her. “Rest assured, our religion is safe when he becomes King.”
“Thank the Lord.” Exclaimed Lady Margaret. She watched the gentlemen, one by one, depart leading their horses through the crowd which had become thin. A cool breeze off the sea had struck up folk that the day was waning.
No one realised then that history had been made with the Solomon League and Covenant having been signed in that town house, which would have great bearing on Scottish, fortunes.
Sometime later Garmouth was granted a royal charter to hold a fair there at the Cross every year. It was attributed to Lady Margaret maybe perhaps because of her hospitality to the Prince that momentous day. To us we know it as Maggie Fair.
A plaque has been erected facing the house where the charter was signed, four hundred years later we still hold the fair with its stalls set up at the Cross, people meeting and discussing their affairs and a guest of honour to welcome amongst us.
Published in the Garmouth & Kingston Newsletter June 2004