On this Day 16th November 1933

Beware Imitations: Helston Furry Dance

Wesley Moyle, Honorary Secretary of the Helston Flora Day Association, is generally a calm enough man. The Big Day has been going from strength to strength – especially since we brought back the Hal-an-Tow three years ago.

Flora Day, Helston 1930 (Donated to helstonhistory.co.uk by the late Douglas Williams and reproduced here with thanks)

Flora Day, Helston 1930 (Donated to helstonhistory.co.uk by the late Douglas Williams and reproduced here with thanks)

We know it’s still November, but it’s important to plan things out in plenty of time, and so there was a decent turnout of members to hear Mr Moyle this evening. And all the usual business was perfectly in order. Profit of nearly £16 this year, and the 1934 date confirmed – of course – as May 8th.

But sadly, that was not all that our secretary had to report. For in the garden of Cornwall there are rival flowers putting up hopeful – and I might say unworthy – shoots. And Mr Moyle has been in receipt of letters.

The Furry Dance, as Mr Moyle so rightly reminded us (not that we would be in doubt) is “undoubtedly Helston’s birthright”. But imitators have had the effrontery to hold deceptively similar events. Not just one, but several. “In many towns and villages throughout the Duchy” he said, without naming names. Some had travelled 200 miles, expecting to see the Furry Dance – doubtless in some benighted borough or squalid hamlet at the other end of the county. After all, who can blame folk from up country, especially motorists? As far as they’re concerned, once they’ve made their way through Salisbury,Yeovil, Exeter, Okehampton - then on at last through the gateway and down into Launceston, or taken the 20-mile run across the moors to Bodmin, they’ve arrived. As far as they’re concerned, Cornwall is Cornwall.

Helston children enjoying their "birthright" in the mid 20th century. (with grateful thanks to www.helstonhistory.co.uk)

Helston children enjoying their "birthright" in the mid 20th century. (with grateful thanks to www.helstonhistory.co.uk)

Of course, such visitors are bound to be disgusted by whatever half-hearted show is put on elsewhere. “They were disappointed at what they saw”, said Mr Moyle, “and wrote to Helston to know if what they saw was the real Furry Dance”.

Mr Cunnack, our chairman, was in full agreement. He made sure that it was put on record that the Association “objected” to such impudence from “other parts of the county”. For who can ever imitate our ancient Festival?

It’s over 20 years since Katie Moss wrote the famous words, riding home from Helston on the train, fresh from that year’s event. “Murmur of the summer seas”, “village band” and so forth: not entirely flattering, to be frank. Especially “quaint old Cornish town”. Now there are plans for a “gramophone company” to “make an accurate recording of the Flora Day festival”. One can see the sense in this. A record of the truth for posterity, and a certain level of fame when the needle falls into the groove and the record spins on the baize turntable, to be heard in sitting rooms all over the land. But then: the music has for so long been passed down the generations of band members by ear, and learnt by heart. Once our tune is known to all and sundry – what dreadful progeny may be unleashed?


Cornishman, Thursday 23rd November 1933, page 7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Floral_Dance (accessed November 12th 2017) suggests that the music was not in fact recorded until the BBC did so in 1943

Messrs Moyle and Cunnack were later supported by the London Cornish Association, whose secretary wrote: "To attempt the Furry Dance without, for instance, passing in and out of the houses would be to lose part of the charm and novelty…. in other towns the so-called Furry Dance is but a travesty, which usually consists of a few straggling couples performing all sorts of grotesque figures…. If other towns and villages attempt the dance as an attraction, visitors should be informed that the traditional dance belongs to Helston, where alone it is correctly danced. ….it is an insult to Helston to compare the travesties of modern dancing performed to the old air with the real "Helston Furry." (Cornishman, Thursday 26th July 1934, page 3)

Flora Day is still organised by the Helston Flora Day Association http://www.helstonfloraday.org.uk (accessed November 12th 2017), which currently lists dates through to 2023 but makes no mention of possible imitations

Journey details are taken from a Ward Lock Guide to Penzance c. 1940. It should be emphasised that neither Bodmin nor Launceston was named as one of the imitators.

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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