Flora Day: A Very Personal View!

`A VERY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE`

by GRAHAM G MATTHEWS

`Helstonian & extremely proud of it!`

TRYING TO EXPLAIN IT!

Trying to explain to someone born “Up Country` (from England) what Flora Day is all about is not quite as simple as it first appears.

When I say to someone “It`s a very special day when the local people of Helston dance in and out of the shops and houses dressed in `Top Hat & Tails` for the men and `Ball Gown` type dresses for the ladies. A bit like Royal Ascot but with a brass band”, they tend to look at me as if I`ve got two heads, both pointed, have webbed feet & hands and expect the rest of the people to be dressed like Worzel Gummidge. When I further explain that it`s nothing to do with `Morris Dancing` things tend to go from bad to worse.

Many people all over the world are familiar with the `FLORAL DANCE` thanks to Katie Moss & Terry Wogan and of course with out OUR `FLORA`, `FURRY` or `FADDY` that derivation would never have come about. BUT, that`s where the connection stops. Like every Helstonian my blood starts to boil when I hear people refer to Helston’s celebrations as the `FLORAL DANCE`. Just to make it perfectly clear to all those people that don`t know any better.

THE `FLORAL DANCE` IS NOT THE `FLORA DANCE` OR `FURRY DANCE`!

So, if you are talking about our special day, please get it right. That way you won`t upset any of the local’s who really do get offended!

However, if you were extremely privileged to have actually been born in the town like myself (a bit like `Bow Bells` to a Cockney`) Flora Day is perfectly normal and life in the town just would`nt be right without.

SO WHAT`S THE ATTRACTION AND WHY DO `HELSTONIANS` TRAVEL HOME FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD ESPECIALLY FOR FLORA DAY?

Without a doubt for Helstonians, Flora Day is the most important day in the year.

Personally, I would give up Christmas, Easter and every other public holiday not to miss it.

It is extremely difficult to explain how people feel about it but perhaps in the most simplistic terms, it is a `magical` time when everyone wants to be in the streets of Helston to take part in the celebrations, feel the atmosphere, meet old friends and spend it with your family.

I was very lucky to be a pupil at St. Michael`s School during the 1960`/1970`s and it is without doubt that the tradition of Flora Day was instilled in me at such an early age. For several weeks ahead of May 8th our teachers would rigorously `put us through our paces` in practicing the Dance. No quarter was given and everyone was expected to be perfect in their steps. This is what makes the dances so unique and special. Just to see 1000 children moving through the streets to the timing of the band is really a spectacular sight.

FLORA DAY 1968

Graham G Matthews (immediate left) , Kevin Barnes, Wendy Hill, Katrina Freeman to name just a few during Flora Day 1968. My first ever dance and one not to be forgotten as it was cut short to the really bad rain and wind.


What`s also important about the day is the preparation.

Several days before organised groups go to the local estates of Trevarno, Penrose & Trelowarren to cut `greenery`. The day before Flora Day many people spend a huge amount of effort dressing the houses, shops and the Corn Exchange with the flowers, branches and flags. The main part of the town is transformed ready for the celebrations.

On Flora Day itself you can really feel the atmosphere.

I always start day by standing outside of my parents home in Meneage Street, watching the weather, whilst enjoying a hot cup of tea and waiting for the bells to start ringing across the town from St. Michael`s Church.

At 6.30am the bells blast out and FLORA DAY has begun.

Now it`s time to race the few yards further down into the town.

For me, although the Mid-Day Dance is the most spectacular, it is the start of the Early Morning Dance at 7.00am which has the most `magical` feel. Along the streets hundreds of local people eagerly await the strike of the town clock. It`s almost impossible to go more than a few yards at a time without meeting someone you haven`t seen for ages, perhaps not since last Flora Day and sometimes the first time for many years.

FLORA DAY 2002 MURPHY THE CAT

`MURPHY` the Cat enjoying his first Flora Day with owner Ruth Powell in Church Street

After the first Dance comes the Hal-an-Tow. This is an ancient pageant with such characters as St. Michael (Patron Saint of Helston) & the Devil, St. George & the Dragon and even the `Spaniards`! Here is a great chance to join in with the singing and really get into the spirit of the day to come.

WHAT`S IT LIKE TO TAKE PART IN ONE OF THE DANCES?

FLORA DAY 2003 LISMORE GARDENS

Graham G Matthews, Fred Matthews (my Dad) & Sandra Laity.
Mid-Day Dance at Lismore Gardens 8th May 2003

It is a fantastic experience to actually take part in one of the Dances or the Hal-an-Tow.

When you awake on Flora Day morning the first thing you do is look out of the window and check the weather. Everyone in Helston is watching it from the week before. Although the celebrations continue despite the weather (although it has been known to cut short the Children’s Dance if it rains too heavily), it really makes a big difference if it`s good. Not blazing sunshine but one of those lovely May days with blue skies, `fluffy` clouds and a very light breeze to stop the dancers getting too hot.

As a Helstonian I have been very lucky to have taken part in the Children’s Dance, Hal-an-Tow and the Mid-Day Dance.

Getting ready is always exciting. Have I forgotten anything and can I get through the crowds to the start in time?. You constantly look at your watch as the time ticks down to the start. As the `Big Drum` thumps out and Helston Town Band starts to play your heart pounds and there is always a great cheer from the crowds. You follow the dancers in front, making your way through the shops, banks, houses and gardens around the town. Many places you will only see if you are actually taking place!

Be careful now, don`t step on your partners toes and make sure you are perfectly in step with the tune.

At the end of the Dance, which takes between 2 & 3 hours to complete, the Band stops playing the tune and there is a silence in anticipation of the National Anthem. Then, the Dancers and crowds roar with cheers and applause.

Without a doubt to be in Helston on Flora Day is special but absolutely nothing beats the privilege of taking part.

FLORA DAY CROWDS

FLORA DAY CROWDS following the Children’s Dance down Meneage Street

JIM MORAN


My good friend Helston PC JIM MORAN (now retired) in best uniform complete with traditional LILLY OF THE VALLEY flowers, which are worn by the Band, Dancers & local people.

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