Freelance consultant for digital heritage

The top of the first interpretation board from the exhibition. The wording reads "Faddying it thro' the Streets, the earliest accounts of Flora Day"

Folk exhibition at the Museum of Cornish Life

On Saturday 20th April my third exhibition about folk traditions has opened for a month (until 20th May) at the Museum of Cornish Life in Helston. Titled Faddying it thro’ the Streets, the exhibition explores the earliest written accounts of Helston’s annual Flora Day celebration and links them to a selection of objects from the museum’s extensive collections.

The first hour of the morning was ushered in with drums, fifes, and fiddles. Various parties proceeded to the country, where they ravished the gardens and hedges of their sweets, decorated themselves in the spoils, passed a few hours in junketing, and then returned to the town, faddying it thro’ the streets.

Royal Cornwall Gazette – Saturday 15 May 1802

It is decorated with (museum-safe) leaves and flowers to bring some of the feeling of Flora Day into the museum. The earliest account dates from 1790, and the most recent in the exhibition is from 1849. I wanted visitors, whether they were visitors with no knowledge of Flora Day or were born Helstonians who had never missed a single ‘Eighth of May’ to learn something of its origins, and perhaps discover something that surprised, intrigued or delighted them.

When I was asked to curate the exhibition, I was delighted. Flora Day is held by many Helstonians as a day that equals Christmas in terms of importance. The day itself is highly organised and a delight to attend as a visitor. Only Helstonians and their partners (I am not one of them) are allowed to participate in the formal dances. My previous exhibition, a huge dive into the historical roots of the modern festival of Golowan in Penzance which took over the huge retail area of a former Argos, was fascinating and satisfying to research and curate. It has sparked interest from the community into the traditions and customs, and helped them to understand the origins of today’s celebrations. Since Flora Day is so dear to so many, I opted to letting the historical accounts themselves lead the narrative, so that Helstonians and visitors alike could learn from the words of their forebears.

The people of Helston celebrated their annual festival, the Furry-day, on Monday last, with great spirit, amidst a crowd of visitors assembled from the neighbouring towns and country.

Royal Cornwall Gazette – Saturday 14 May 1808

Using sources as diverse as musical scores, antiquarian books and 19th century newspapers, I wove together excerpts and quotes directly from them, lightly introduced and with dates clearly indicated. I think that some people will be surprised by the types of activities that people took part in during Flora Day. They might also be interested in the debate, which is still ongoing 200 years later, about the very name “Flora Day”, which is indignantly summarised by a letter from 1809 signed by the otherwise anonymous “Viator” who felt that the real and traditional name “Furry Day” was far more appropriate than one named after a Roman goddess.

The common people call the ceremony FFYNNU, and FFODI; which implies prosperity, and happiness: and others call it, FLORA-day.

The Bardic Museum, by Edward Jones. Vol I. London: A. Strahan. 1802

Faddying it thro’ the Streets also introduces the earliest musical scores for the Furry Dance tune which is played throughout the day, as well as for the “Furry Day Song Tune” to which the “Hal-An-Tow” is sung early in the morning. Some of the museum’s earliest musical instruments are on display in the exhibition, illustrating not just the music played throughout Flora Day and its elaborate formal evening balls, but also celebrating the informal music that was played for dancing and entertainment at the town’s taverns and inns during the period.

The whole of the amusements of the day were conducted with that good order which has ever distinguished this festival, and does credit to the people of Helston.

Royal Cornwall Gazette – Saturday 15 May 1802

Faddying it thro’ the Streets is on at the Museum of Cornish Life from 20th April until 20th May 2024. I will be giving a short talk about it at the Museum on 30th April.

The exhibition panels have been produced using recyclable materials, and have been designed to be reused. It has been made possible through funding from Arts Council England.


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