Helston Flora or Furry is held on the 8th of May every year except when the 8th falls on a Monday or Sunday. The origins of the festival are lost in the midst of time. It is clear that the day may have started as a May rite such as the Padstow Obby Oss of the Penzance May Horns, however most people today will inform you that the day is in fact the town patronal feast day celebrating St Michael the Archangel.
During the day itself the population take part in two distinctive Cornish Customs, the Furry Dance and the Hal an Tow.
The dance is traditionally cornish and other “furry’s” are practiced throughout Cornwall. During the dances special costume is worn by the participants the most notable being the morning formal worn by the dancers during the Midday dance. Dancers traditionally wear Lilly of the Valley one symbol of Helston.
The day is usually time tabled as follows.
Morning Dance : Guildhall at 7am
The Hal-an-Tow : St John’s Bridge at 8:30am
The Children’s Dance : Wendron Street at 9:50am
The Midday Dance : Guildhall at 12 noon
The Evening Dance : Guildhall at 5pm
The Furry dance tune played by local bands is never recorded officially and passed on by word of mouth. In 1890 Cornish antiquarian MA Courtney wrote that the tune was sometimes known as “John the Bone”. The following rhyme often being attached to the tune it by local children:
“John the Bone was walking home, when he met with Sally Dover, He kissed her once, he kissed her twice, and he kissed her three times over”.
The Hal an Tow is a “mummers play” not dissimilar to plays like St George and the Turkish Knight performed at Christmas time in Cornwall. The event was revived in the 1930’s by Helston OId Cornwall Society.