A festival which has taken place in Helston since time immemorial, Flora Day is a unique celebration of the triumph of spring over winter. Taking place on May 8th (unless 8th is a Sunday or Monday, in which case it reverts to the previous Saturday), the day draws people to the town in their thousands. This year (2023) there is an exception due to the King's Coronation. Flora Day will take place on Friday 5th May this year.
The day consists of four processional dances which follow the band through the streets and in and out of the houses and shops which have been decorated with greenery and flowers for the day. The first dance starts at 7am and was traditionally the dance for the servants and workers of the town. The ladies wear bright summers dresses and their partners wear white shirts and the Helston Town tie. The next dance is the Children’s Dance and this starts at 9.40am. The Children’s dance was brought in in 1922 and has proved very popular. The children all wear white, with the girls wearing floral headdresses representing their school and the boys wearing their school ties. The midday dance starts as the Guildhall clock strikes 12 and is the most regal of the dances. The ladies wear long dresses, picture hats and evening gloves and the gentlemen are resplendent in tail coats, waistcoats and grey top hats. The final dance of the day is at 5pm and is the same as the 7 am dance and although the dancers have by now had a whole day of revelling, it doesn’t damped their enthusiasm.
Helston Town Band always lead the dances, playing the traditional tune for which there has never been a written score – the parts are passed on by band members to their successors. The dance too is passed on through the generations and consists of a stately promenade and a twirling polka. As well as following the dress code for the individual dances, everyone wears a buttonhole of lily of the valley.
Another integral part of the day is the Hal an Tow. This might well be the oldest part of the day’s proceedings, as it resembles an old mystery play with historical scenes acted out whilst singing the traditional song. The song mentions historical figures such as Robin Hood, St George, St Michael - who fought the dragon - and the sailors of the Spanish armada! The Hal an Tow is enacted 7 times at different places in the town and noisily parades through the town to each one. In fact, the Hal an Tow fell out of favour in Victorian times because of the rowdiness of the participants but was revived by Helston Old Cornwall Society in 1930.
The day would not be complete without a fair, which is situated on the traditional fairground on the Porthleven Road and a lively street market where you can buy local crafts and clothing and choose from a huge variety of food and drink stalls.
Flora Day is considered “better than Christmas” by Helston folk, and Helstonians always try to get back to the town for this day above all others.
Helston Town Band
Flora Day from the museum steps