Helston (Cornish: Hellys) is a town and civil parish in Cornwall,
England, United Kingdom. It is situated at the northern end of the
Lizard Peninsula approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Penzance
and 9 miles (14 km) south-west of Falmouth.
Helston is the
most southerly town on the island of Great Britain and is around 1.5
miles (2.4 km) farther south than Penzance. The population in
2011 was 11,700.
The former stannary and cattle market town is best known for the
Furry Dance (known locally as the Flora Dance), said to
originate from the medieval period. However, the Hal-an-Tow is reputed
to be of Celtic origin. The song, and music, associated with the Furry
Dance is known to have been written in 1911. In 2001, the town
celebrated the 800th anniversary of the granting of its Charter.
4 Culture and community
4.1 Flora Day: the
Furry Dance and Hal-an-Tow ceremonies
4.2 Hellys International Guitar Festival
Helston Town Band
5 Churches and places of interest
7 Sport and recreation
9 Local newspapers
11 Further reading
12 External links
The name comes from the Cornish 'hen lis' or 'old court' and 'ton'
added later to denote a Saxon manor; the
Domesday Book refers to
Henliston (which survives as the name of a road in the town). Only one
edition refers to 'Henlistona'. It was granted its charter by King
John on 15 April 1201, for the price of forty marks of silver. It was
here that tin ingots were weighed to determine the tin coinage duty
due to the Duke of
Cornwall when a number of stannary towns were
authorised by royal decree. A document of 1396 examined by Charles
Henderson shows that the old form "Hellys" was still in use  The
Helston in Kerrier was one of the seventeen Antiqua maneria
of the Duchy of Cornwall. The seal of the borough of
Helston was St
Michael his wings expanded and standing on a gateway. The two towers
domed upon the up-turned dragon, impaling it with his spear and
bearing upon his left arm an escutcheon of the arms of England, viz Gu
three lions passant guardant in pale Or, with the legend "Sigillum
comunitatis helleston burg".
It is a matter of debate as to whether
Helston was once a port, albeit
no actual records exist. A common belief is that in the
Loe Bar formed a barrier across the mouth of the River
Cober cutting the town off from the sea. Geomorphologists believe the
bar was most likely formed by rising sea levels, after the last ice
age, blocking the river and creating a barrier beach. The beach is
formed mostly of flint and the nearest source is found offshore under
the drowned terraces of the former river that flowed between England
and France, and now under the English Channel.
Daniel Defoe describes
Helston (1725) in his tour around Great Britain
thus, ″This town is large and populous, and has four spacious
streets, a handsome church, and a good trade: this town also sends
members to Parliament.' He also mentions that the
River Cober makes a
tolerable good harbour and several ships are loaded with tin, although
over one hundred years before Defoe, Richard Carew (1602) described
Loe Bar as "The shingle was relatively porous and fresh water could
leave and seawater enter depending, on the relative heights of the
pool and sea". Defoe's description seems to be the first and
possibly the origin of other sources claiming
Helston to be a port in
the historic period.
Loe Pool is referred to in a document of
1302, implying the existence of
Loe Bar at this date, if not much
earlier, and thus precluding the passage of shipping up the Cober. At
the same time it was recorded that the burgesses of
jurisdiction over the ships anchored at Gweek, but no mention was made
of ships at Helston, and no customs records or other documentation of
port traffic relating to
Helston survives; thus confirming the
fact that Gweek has for centuries been the recognized port of
Helston. There is no known archaeological evidence for the
existence of a port at Helston* and there is no primary evidence to
support Defoe’s account.
However, contributing to the belief of a port at
Helston was the
discovery of what some people believe to be slipways and mooring
rings, during excavations around 1980. There was no known
shipping from the sea after 1260, but before 1200, in 'the 1182 record
of Godric of Helleston paying a fine of ten marks for exporting his
corn out of
Helston without a licence.' This could be
considered the most significant piece of documentary evidence
signifying Helston's former port days, though it does not prove the
case.;  At the time of Domesday Book, Gweek had no inhabitants
Helston was the largest settlement in the west of Cornwall,
with 113 households. In 1837 a plan was drawn up to open Loe Pool
to shipping using a pier to counteract siltation, but it was never
The site of Helston's castle is now a bowling green near the Grylls
Monument, which has been there since 1760. The castle was a simple
pre-1086 motte and bailey structure, known as Henliston Castle,
replaced in 1280 by a stone structure of a similar design for Edmund,
Earl of Cornwall. By 1478 it had fallen into disuse and ruin.
Helston parliamentary constituency was created in 1298 and elected
two members to the Unreformed House of Commons; the Reform Act 1832
reduced the number elected to one.
Helston is now part of the St Ives
constituency, which covers the western part of
Cornwall and the Isles
of Scilly. The current member is the Conservative, Derek Thomas.
Helston is within the
South West England
South West England European Parliamentary
Constituency. At local government level, the town is administered by
Cornwall Council and
Helston Town Council.
Helston is situated along the banks of the
River Cober in Cornwall.
Downstream is Cornwall's largest natural lake Loe Pool, formed when a
shingle bar blocked the mouth of the river by rising sea levels
forming a barrier beach. To the south is the Lizard Peninsula, an area
important for its complex geology and wildlife habitats.
Helston is on the A394 road. To the west, the A394 leads to Penzance;
to the north-east it leads to Penryn where it joins the A39, which
leads south to Falmouth and north-east to Truro. The B3297 runs north
Helston to Redruth. The nearest railway station is Redruth
on the Cornish main line, although the
Helston branch line railway
served the town until closure in the early 1960s. The branch left the
ex-GWR main line at Gwinear Road station near Hayle, and ran 8.5 miles
(13.7 km) south to terminate at
Helston railway station. The
Helston Railway Preservation Company is undertaking the restoration of
part of the line. Bus services now link
Helston to the rail network;
First South West
First South West provides the (34) bus service from
Redruth station to
Helston as well as other services to nearby towns and the Lizard
The nearest airport is
Airport which is approximately
35 miles (56 km) north-east of Helston. This is the main
commercial airport for
Cornwall with regular scheduled services to
many parts of the UK.
Helston has an oceanic climate (
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification Cfb),
similar to the rest of the British Isles. It is one of the mildest
places in the country and frosts are rarely severe. The nearest Met
Office weather station is RNAS Culdrose, approximately 1 mile
south-east of the town centre. Temperature extremes in the area since
1980 have ranged from −10.9 °C (12.4 °F) during January
1987, and up to 29.6 °C (85.3 °F) in August 1990.
The coldest temperature in recent years was −6.2 °C
(20.8 °F) in December 2009. Snow occurs in median every
second year, almost in 2 – 3 days in line or one alone, most often
in January or February.
Climate data for
Helston airport, 1996–2017 normals
Record high °F (°C)
Mean maximum °F (°C)
Average high °F (°C)
Average low °F (°C)
Mean minimum °F (°C)
Record low °F (°C)
Average rainfall inches (mm)
Average rainy days (≥ 39.323 in)
Mean monthly sunshine hours
Source #1: Wunderground
Source #2: MeteoFrance
Culture and community
Flora Day: the
Furry Dance and Hal-an-Tow ceremonies
Coinagehall Street and the Blue Anchor Inn
Flora Day occurs annually, on 8 May (except when the date falls on a
Sunday or Monday — Monday being Market Day — when it is
the preceding Saturday)
Helston hosts the Furry Dance.
There are four dances throughout the day, the first starting at 7 a.m.
(historically for domestic servants), the ladies in summer frocks and
the gentlemen in white shirts and dark grey trousers with neckties
bearing the town crest, loaned for the day. The second dance at 9.50
is when children from the town's schools dance dressed all in white,
the individual schools denoted by the head dresses that the girls
wear. The premier dance follows at Midday when the "gentry of the
County" dance, the ladies in long ball-type gowns topped off with
picture hats and the gentlemen wearing full morning dress. The final
dance of the day begins at 5 p.m., a dance historically for the
tradespeople of the town. Participants in this dance are the only
dancers to dance around the town twice, having already danced in the 7
Only Helston-born people can dance in the lead set in each dance and
the first male and female will only lead that dance once in their
lifetime. Flora Day is administered by Stewards who elect stewards
therefore continuing this wonderful occasion without outside
Helston Town Band play the famous tune and accompany all
four dances on a long route around the town. The dwellings and shops
of the town are festooned with bluebells, campions and whatever green
foliage is available. Specific dances (not including the children's
dance) go into and out of various private buildings, shops and
grounds. The origins of the dance are not known but appear to
represent a pre-Christian celebration of the passing of winter.
On the same day the "Hal an Tow", another celebration of the coming of
spring, is performed upon the streets of the town. This is a
morning ritual that is traditionally more boisterous than the dance.
It is a moving street theatre that appears to have its origins in the
Middle Ages, and the themes tend to be more English than uniquely
Cornish. The theatre consists of the Hal-an-tow song accompanied by
dancing and acting out the content of the verses. The costumes and the
song itself represent many different historical and mythical themes.
It has evolved over time, the most recent verse (about St Piran) only
appeared within the 21st century.
Hellys International Guitar Festival
In 2017, a new festival was established by the lutenist Ben Salfield
and his promoters, Kernow Concerts, bringing international concert
artists from the world of guitar music from as far away as Los
Angeles to perform concerts and give free lessons in
August. The festival is initially based in The Old Cattle Market, next
to Coronation Park and Boating Lake, and features some of the best
artists in their field.
Helston Town Band
Helston Town Band
Helston Town Band has a rich history, which can be traced back to the
turn of the 20th century. Indeed, there are members of the current
band whose family connections extend back four generations.
Inevitably, during the War the band reformed with new members and in
1946 numbers were consolidated when most of its pre-war members
returned from active service. The band enjoyed steady progress at this
time, which culminated in 1951 when it reached the National Third
Section Finals at Belle Vue, Manchester.
In 1967, the band came under the direction of Edward Ashton, with whom
the band gained much success and a reputation for consistently playing
music to a high standard. Edward led the band to numerous successes in
both local and regional contests, until his retirement in November
2002 after an incredible 35 years.
Following his retirement, the band appointed John Hitchens as their
new Musical Director . The band has continued to flourish under
John’s direction: in 2003, they were crowned Cornish First Section
Champions, and in 2004 they gained promotion to the National First
In 2006, the band were crowned West of
England First Section
Champions, and received an invitation to compete in the National First
Section Finals in Harrogate, where they achieved a commendable seventh
place. The band went on to achieve third place at the West of England
First Section Championships in 2007, and were delighted to become West
England First Section Champions once again in 2008.
These excellent results mean that
Helston Town Band earned promotion
and is competing in the Championship Section in 2009 for this first
time in its history.
Churches and places of interest
St Michael's churchyard
The birthplace of Bob Fitzsimmons
There are several churches including St Michael's Church, a humble
church with stained-glass windows and a tall bell tower which can be
heard throughout the town. In the surrounding graveyard there is a
monument to Henry Trengrouse, the inventor of the rocket fired safety
line — a device for aiding in the saving of lives in a
Helston is also the birthplace of Bob "Ruby Robert" Fitzsimmons, the
first triple world boxing champion. The house where he was born and
Helston is still standing and is indicated by a plaque above
Helston Museum, founded in 1949, occupies the building originally
designed as the town's Market House in 1837, with two separate
buildings—one for butter and eggs, the other the meat market. The
exhibits are mostly concerned with Helston's agricultural and market
town history. The museum also hosts art exhibitions and has a shop
selling all things Cornish.
There are three Cornish crosses in Helston: one in Cross Street and
two in Mr. Baddeley's garden (Cross Street). One of the latter crosses
was removed from Tresprison, Wendron, and other from near Trelill Holy
Well, Wendron. The cross from Trelill has ornament on the front and
back of the shaft.
The Grylls Monument, at the end of Coinagehall Street was built by
public subscription in 1834 to thank Humphry Millet Grylls, a local
banker, who stopped the closure of Wheal Vor, a local mine that at the
time employed over a thousand people.
Helston also hosts The Flambards Experience, formerly the
Park, which is a theme park with a selection of rides together with a
few remaining aviation exhibits. Nearby Wendron is home to the Poldark
Mine theme park, where visitors can go underground into the old
Helston Community College, previously Gwealhellis Secondary Modern
School, has the most pupils in Cornwall. Its South Site building has a
long history as a grammar school and boasts
Derwent Coleridge as a
headmaster, his pupils including Charles Kingsley, John Duke
Coleridge, Richard Edmonds, Thomas Rowe Edmonds, John Rogers, Henry
Trengrouse and James Trevenen. Another former headmaster was
the botanist and author
Charles Alexander Johns
Charles Alexander Johns (1843–47), who was
also a former pupil.
The School Houses in grammar school days were Coleridge, Kingsley and
Tennyson. Alfred Tennyson's local connection was through his writing.
Helston has three primary schools. These are Parc Eglos, St. Michael's
and Nansloe. The catchment area of
Helston Community College includes
these and many other schools from the surrounding villages.
Sport and recreation
Bowlingclub and the Grylls Monument
The town has an active sporting scene, with
Helston RFC, Helston
Athletic FC and
Helston Cricket Club all having prominent roles within
the community. The Swallows
Gymnastics Club is also extremely popular
within the area.
Helston holds an annual road race An Resek Helys (The
Race for Helston) and an annual triathlon.
The town has a King George V Playing Field, the home ground for the
rugby club and finish line of An Resek Helys. Below the town is
Coronation Park which has a man-made lake as its centrepiece where
rowing boats can be hired in summer. A skate park is nearby in the
same complex. The Penrose Amenity Area lies across the road from
Coronation Park. National Trust-owned, this area, once part of the
Penrose Estate, offers walks alongside the
River Cober which leads
Loe Pool and the sea beyond Loe Bar. Just off the main path is
a bird-watching hide offering views over Loe Pool.
Helston is twinned with the following towns:
Sasso Marconi, Bologna, Italy
Plougasnou, Brittany, France
Helston is served by two local paid-for newspapers, The West
Briton and The Packet: both offer a selection of news and local
pictures. The area is also covered by a free delivered newspaper, the
Helston Advertiser established in April 2000.
^ "List of Place-names agreed by the MAGA Signage Panel" (PDF).
Cornish Language Partnership. May 2014. Archived from the original
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^ a b Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 203 Land's End
^ "2011 population for Helston". Archived from the original on 5
February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
^ The music and lyric were written in 1911 by Kate Emily Barkley
("Katie") Moss (1881-1947) who was a professional violinist, pianist
and concert singer.
^ "Genuki: Helston, Cornwall". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
^ Henderson, C. (1933) "Helston", in his: Essays in Cornish History.
Oxford; Clarendon Press; pp. 67-74
^ Hatcher, John (1970) Rural Economy and Society in the Duchy of
Cornwall 1300-1500. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-08550-0
^ Pascoe, W. H. (1979). A Cornish Armory. Padstow, Cornwall: Lodenek
Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-902899-76-7.
^ "Helston, Cornwall". www.cornwall-calling.co.uk. Retrieved 29 March
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Geomorphology of Great Britain, (Geological Conservation Review
Series, No. 28), 754 pp. Joint Nature Conservation Committee,
^ Defoe, Daniel (1991). A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great
Britain. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
^ Martin, B (c. 1770). The Natural History of
^ a b Russell, Stephanie. "Historic characterisation for regeneration
– Helston" (PDF).
Cornwall & Scilly Urban Survey. Cornwall
Archaeological Unit. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
^ The History of Helston, p. 392.
^ a b Carroll, Patrick. "HELSTONIA - The Blue Anchor Demythologising
my local". Retrieved Oct 26, 2015.
^ Kittridge, Alan, 1989 Cornwall's Maritime Heritage. Twelveheads
^ Toy, Spencer (1936). A History of Helston. pp. 17, 18.
^ "Place: Helston". Open Domesday. Retrieved Nov 2, 2015.
^ Matthews, G. G. "
Helston History. Retrieved Oct
^ "Discover Helston: The Early Days". Archived from the original on 3
March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
^ Bates, R and Scott, B: 1999,
Helston Town Trail Leaflet
^ Jean Lawman (1994) A Natural History of the Lizard Peninsula. Pool:
Institute of Cornish Studies.
^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 204
Truro & Falmouth
^ "1987 temperature". TuTiempo.
^ "1990 temperature". TuTiempo.
^ "2009 temperature". TuTiempo.
^ a b
Retrieved 1 February 2017. Missing or empty title= (help)
Retrieved 12 November 2011. Missing or empty title= (help)
^ Green, Marian (1980) A Harvest of Festivals. Ch. 2: St Michael and a
dancing serpent. London: Longman; pp. 14-30
^ BMG Magazine, Summer 2017
^ Packet Newspaper, March 22nd 2017
^ Langdon, A. G. (1896) Old Cornish Crosses. Truro: Joseph Pollard;
pp. 261, 104 & 331-32
^ Rapple, Brendan A. "Brief Biography of Charles Kingsley, 1819-1875".
Boston College Libraries. Archived from the original on 23 March 2008.
Retrieved 13 April 2008.
^ Rowse, A. L. (1976). "Chapter 2 "Oxford"". Matthew Arnold: Poet and
Prophet. London: Thames and Hudson. p. 25.
^ The further alumni are cited as
Helston students in
ODNB articles on
^ Dare, Deirdre, and Melissa Hardie. A Passion for Nature:
19th-Century Naturalism in the Circle of Charles Alexander Johns.
Penzance, Cornwall: Patten Press & Jamieson Library, 2008.
Cornwall Road Running". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
Helston Triathlon". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
^ Information supplied by
Helston Twinning Association
Helston Advertiser". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
Henderson, Charles G. (1935)
Helston [and] The rules of a cobblers'
Helston in 1517. In: Essays in Cornish History. Oxford
University Press; pp. 67–79
Jenkin, Reg & Carter, Derek (2012) The Book of Helston: ancient
borough and market town. Wellington: Halsgrove
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Helston.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Helston.
Helston Town Council
Cornwall Record Office Online Catalogue for Helston
Ceremonial county of Cornwall
Council of the Isles of Scilly
St Columb Major
St Just in Penwith
See also: List of civil parishes in Cornwall
Population of major settlements
Places of interest
Outline of Cornwall
Index of Cornwall-related articles
Civil parishes of St Ives constituency
St Michael's Mount