Countdown to Flora Day begins

Excitement is building as Helston prepares to celebrate the most important event on the civic calendar: Flora Day.

The annual feast day sees normal working practices set aside for the day, with dancing and merriment in its place.

Over the next three weeks members of Helston Town Band will be carrying out last minute practises of the tune that they already know so well, having been passed down from generation to generation.

It will be at 6.30am on Wednesday, May 8, however, that the excitement will really reach fever pitch, when bellringers from the town’s parish church of St Michael’s ring a celebratory peel for half an hour, up to the start of the first dance.

Often the favourite of locals, this will take place as always at 7am, although crowds will have begun gathering outside the Guildhall in Coinagehall Street well before then.

At the first bang of the bass drum the dancers will emerge from inside the building, this year led by Clare O’Hare, Graham Webber, Gillian Hammond and Sam Autie.

Traditionally the dance for servants, it will be knee-length dresses for the women and white shirts and black trousers for the men, who all wear ties bearing the town crest. Ninety minutes later, as the dancers are nearing the end of their route through the town, it will be time for the first performance of the Hal-an-Tow – a pageant with song and dance that takes place at various points around the town.

This tells the story of how Helston’s patron saint, Michael, killed the devil, how St George slayed the dragon and how St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall, travelled across the sea on a mill stone.

At 9.40am pupils from Helston’s three primary schools of Parc Eglos, St Michael’s and Nansloe, plus students from Helston Community College, will line up in Wendron Street for the start of the children’s dance. Dressed all in white, each girl wears a headdress made of flowers representing their school’s colours. This year the dance is led by the secondary school and sixth form, with the leading set made up of Lauren Kenchington, Peter Crowther, Hannah Whear and Liam Gimbert.

The grandest and most popular dance of the day with visitors is of course the Ancient Furry Dance, which leaves the Guildhall at midday. Designed as a dance for the gentry of the town, the women will wear long dresses, gloves and hats while the men are dressed in top hat and tails. This year the honour of leading has been given to David Harvey, Julie Willey, Mark Bradley and Ruth Williams.

There will then be a break in the dancing, giving visitors the chance to tour the stalls and enjoy the fairground rides. The final dance of the day will be at 5pm, involving the same dancers as at 7am but taking a slightly different route, dancing in and out of many shops in Meneage Street.

They will end back at the Guildhall, where the band always plays a rousing version of the National Anthem.

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