Helston

Street Map

Helston (Cornish: Hellys or Henlys) 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 nine miles (14.5 km) southwest of Falmouth. Helston is the most southerly town in the UK and is around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) further south than Penzance.

Helston is close to the Tregonning and Gwinear Mining Districts with Trewavas; and the Wendron Mining District, two of ten sites comprising the Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 2001, the town celebrated the 800th anniversary of the granting of its Charter, making it the second oldest town in Cornwall after Marazion. The town population is 9,780.

The former tin mining and cattle market town is best known for the annual Furry Dance (known locally as the Flora Dance), said to originate from the medieval period.

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). It was granted its charter by King John in 1201. It was here that tin ingots were weighed to determine the 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 manor of Helston in Kerrier was one of the 17 Antiqua maneria of the Duchy of Cornwall. The seal of the borough of Helston was St Michael his wings expanded standing on a gateway the two towers domed upon the upturned 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 common belief that Helston was once a port and in the 13th century 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 on the drowned terraces of the former river that flowed between England and France, and now under the English Channel.

At local government level, the town is administered by Helston Town Council and Cornwall Council.

The Helston parliamentary constituency elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons. The Reform Act 1832 reduced this to one. Helston is now part of the St. Ives constituency, which covers the south-westernmost part of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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 northeast it leads to Penryn where it joins the A39 which leads south to Falmouth and northeast to Truro. The B3297 runs north from Helston to Redruth.

The nearest airport is Newquay Cornwall Airport which is approximately 35 miles (57 km) northwest of Helston. This is the main commercial airport for Cornwall with regular scheduled services to many parts of the UK.

The Helston branch line railway served the town until the closure of the line in the early 1960s. The branch left the ex-GWR Cornish 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.

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 a.m. dance. 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 interference. 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.

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 shipwreck.

Helston is also the birthplace of Bob “Ruby Robert” Fitzsimmons, the first triple world boxing champion. The house where he was born and lived in Helston is still standing and is indicated by a plaque above the door.

The Helston folk 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.

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 Helston Aero 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 workings.

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