Helston Flora Day

Helston Flora Day

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Helston Flora Day
Early May sees Helston town celebrate the much-awaited coming of spring and passing of winter in its own unique and colourful way. Flora Day, as it is known, is always held on the 8th unless that happens to fall on a Sunday or Monday, in which case it is held of the Saturday before. The festivities are said to date back to pagan times, but many other influences have become intermingled over the years. In any case, on this day the pretty market town of Helston comes ablaze with flowers and greenery adorning doorways and roadsides, as befits the name of the day, multicoloured bunting flutters in the breeze, the fair sets up in Coronation Park at the bottom of the hill, and the streets are filled with processions of dancers and hordes of jolly revellers. The Victorians found the revelry somewhat too decadent and immoral and so banned the whole affair for a period, but it bounced back and continues in fine fettle to this day.

Central to the day are the numerous dances which wend their way through the streets, and in and out of various buildings and houses, known as the Helston Furry Dance. There are four in total, starting with one at 7am which would have originally been for those Helston dwellers in service in the large houses, so that they might resume their duties straight afterwards. Dancers are traditionally dressed in their Sunday best, the men in shirt and tie and the women in summer dresses.

Helston Flora Hal an Tow
Hal an Tow
Following this, at half past eight, comes the Hal An Tow, a cross between a dance and acting out various scenes from both history and legend which feature in the Hal An Tow song. Local merrymakers in fancy dress re-enact St George slaying the dragon and Helston’s patron Saint Michael seeing off the devil, Robin Hood and his Merry Men get a mention and even the Spanish Armada features in some of the lyrics of the song.

At 10am, it is the turn of the town’s children who dance merrily, accompanied like the other dances by the town band. Again, they are well-dressed, the boys wearing a tie in the colours of their school and their partner sporting matching-coloured flowers in their hair.

By this time the scene has been well and truly set for the main dance of the day, which sets off from the town hall at midday. Again the couples, the men in top hats and tails and the women in best dresses and hats which wouldn’t be out of place at Ascot, spin and glide their way up the main street, through the houses, churches and gardens to the Flora Dance tune. The leading couple must both be Helstonians born and bred, for it is a hallowed role in the traditions of the day.

Helston Flora Dance
Finally, at 5pm, there is a last dance and Helston feels that spring has been thoroughly welcomed into the community. As with all the other adult dancers, a buttonhole of lily of the valley, Helston’s symbolic flower and a true spring bloom, is worn. The men wear it on one lapel, and the women upside down on the opposite side.

Obviously, besides the dances there is a host of other activity in Helston on this day - some take rowing boats out on the lake, others enjoy fair rides and candy floss, and many enjoy a good drink in one of the local hostelries – the most famous being the Blue Anchor on the main street, where the brave sup its infamous strong beer Spingo, often entertained by a selection of local bands.

photos courtesy John Stedman - Sundial Photographics