Helston Furry

The Helston Furry

Celebrating the arrival of May has long been an important tradition in England dating hack to times when people believed that certain rites had to he followed in order to ensure the fertility of the fields for the coming year.

Many wonderful customs existed to usher in the spring. One of the most noteworthy survivals comes from the town of Helston in Cornwall. There a select group of townspeople dress in formal attire and dance through the entire town in a long serpentine procession. The dancers wend their way not only through streets, but also through houses—in the front door and out the hack.

At one time the procession had elements of a spring cleaning or purification rite, as dancers carried sprigs of May blossoms with which they brushed various objects as they passed through the houses. Local legend also has it that the dance originated as a device to scare away the devil!

The procession still takes place annually on May 8th, Old May Day or Furry Day as it is called—from the Latin feria meaning holiday. The tune below is the traditional favorite for the Furry dance.

From Hone’s "Every Day Book"

On the 8th of May, at Helston in Cornwall, is held what is called the Furry. The word is supposed by Mr. Polwhele to have been derived from the old Cornish word fer, a fair or jubilee.

The morning is ushered in by the music of drums and kettles, and other accompaniments of a song, a great part of which is inserted in Mr Polwhele’s history, where this circumstance is noticed. So strict is the observance of this day as a general holiday, that should any person be found at work, he is instantly seized , set astride on a pole, and hurried on men’s shoulders to the river, which he is sentenced to leap over a wide place, which he, of course, fails in attempting, and leaps into the water. A small contribution towards the good cheer of the day easily compounds for the leap. About nine o’clock the revellers appear before the grammar-school, and demand a holiday for the schoolboys, after which they collect contributions form houses. They them fade into the country (fade being and old English word for go), and , about the middle of the day, return with flowers, and oak-branches in their hats and caps. From this time they dance hand in hand through the streets, to the sound of the fiddle, playing a particular tune, running into every house they pass without opposition. In the afternoon a select party of the ladies and gentlemen make a progress through the street, and very late in the evening repair to the ball-room. A stranger visiting the town on the eighth of May would really think the people mad, so apparently wild and thoughtless is the merriment of the day. There is no doubt the Furry originating form the Floralia, anciently observed by the Romans on the fourth on the calends of May."