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Flora Day: better than Christmas in Helston

By West Briton  |  Posted: May 07, 2013

By Beverley Coumbe

  • Dancers looking regal during Flora Day in 1971 on Church Street. : courtesy of Helston Museum

  • Children on Wendron Street during the Flora Day morning procession. Date unknown. : Helston Museum.

  • Midday dancers in their finery on Church Street in the 1950s. : courtesy of Helston Museum.

  • Dancers in top hats and fine dresses watched by crowds of onlookers who each year pack Helston's town centre to watch the spring festival.

  • Nervous anticipation is on the faces of these young dancers as they wait to start the procession. Date unknown. : courtesy of Helston Museum, which has a display outlining Flora Day's origins and traditions

  • Young dancers and Helston's brass band. : Helston Museum

  • Dwarves dance for the crowds during Flora Day in 1925. courtesy of Helston Museum

  • Young girls in Lismore Gardens wearing the traditional Flora day flowers and white tea dresses. courtesy of Helston Museum

  • The date of these Flora Day celebrations are unknown but the fashions suggest the 1910-20s. : Helston Museum

  • The Helston mayor leads the midday dancers along Church Street in the 1960s-70s.

  • For many local women leading the midday dance is considered a huge honour – even more important than their wedding day. : courtesy of Helston Museum.

  • The boys' brigades act as guards of honour in Coinagehall Street in 1907. : Helston Museum

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FLORA Day is a centuries-old tradition that has seen generations of Helstonians file through the town to banish winter and welcome in spring.

Any local will tell you it represents more than simply wearing fine clothes and doing the Furry dance through the streets. It is the community coming together. It is hope and the lifting of spirits.

Gillian Gear organises the Hal-An-Tow pageant, a morning play showing good prevailing over evil with the arrival of spring.

She said: "Two hundred people take part and I always show them a twig bursting with buds to highlight the true meaning of Flora Day.

"Centuries ago it was the time of year when people would die after a long winter and food supplies were low. The coming of spring shows them that all is going to be all right and it gives people hope. To Helstonians it is better than Christmas."

Today people line the route holding up mobile phones and cameras hoping to capture the electric atmosphere and drama of the occasion.

One mother described how her daughter, who was living away, was reduced to tears when she held up her mobile to video Helston Town Band as it started to play – signalling the start of the morning procession at 7am.

The West Briton is inviting spectators to share their favourite Flora Day memory for a special eight-page supplement in next week's paper. Speak to our reporters at the West Briton stand on Coinagehall Street.

Lily of the valley is the flower of the day with midday dancers adhering to a strict dress code – this year organisers have banned strapless dresses and fascinators in the midday dance.

The occasion has spawned a local dressmaking cottage industry with many seamstresses in demand to alter dresses and make elaborate costumes.

Avril Plunkett, who runs Heathercraft, on Coinagehall Street, has made hundreds of tea dresses and seen fashions change through the decades.

She said: "People used to wear traditional tea-dance dresses that went to the floor. Now they tend to buy high street fashions and wear ornate hats and gloves to dress them up."

Helston Flora Day Association honorary secretary, Chris Oliver, said the event has remained popular through the ages because it of its lack of commercialism and sponsors.

He said: "It comes from a pagan festival which saw the lightening of spring driving out the darkness and gloom of winter. We have made few changes during my 25 years on the association. You can't try out too much as you only get one stab at it.

"It's such a wonderful day; people enjoy the camaraderie. Many who have moved away travel back from Australia and America for the event. The atmosphere is beyond words."

This year Graham Webber and Claire O'Haire, along with Sam Autie and Gillian Hammond have the honour of leading the morning dance at 7am and again at 5pm. Julie Willie and David Harvey, Mark Bradley and Ruth Williams will be leading the prestigious midday dance.

Helston Community College students Laura Kenchington, Peter Crowther, Hannah Whear and Liam Gibert will lead more than 1,000 children in the children's dance at 9.40am.

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