On May 8th every year the inhabitants of Helston celebrate the return of Spring by what is known as the "Furry Dance," to the accompaniment of a quaint horn-pipe tune. A ballad is also sung, and the opening verse is:--
Robin Hood and Little John.
They both are gone to the fair, O,
And me to the merry green wood,
To see what they do there, O.
And for to chase, O
To chase the buck and doe,
Jolly rumble, O.
At dawn a band marches through the town, and soon the young people begin to dance in the streets. The "Furry Dance" itself does not "happen" until about 1 p.m. The band begins to play the horn-pipe tune, and the couples trip to the nearest house, waltz through it, and out into the next house, through that, and so on to the next. The band itself actually goes through the houses. There were other ceremonies on Furry Day in bygone years, but the dance alone now survives.
Writing in 1790 a correspondent of The Gentleman's Magazane says:--"At Helstone, a genteel and populous borough town in Cornwall, it is customary to dedicate the eighth of May to revelry (festive mirth, not loose jollity). It is called the Furry Day, supposed Flora's Day; not, I imagine, as many have thought, in remembrance of some festival instituted in honour of that goddess, but rather from the garlands commonly worn on that day. In the morning, very early, some troublesome rogues go round the streets with drums, or other noisy instruments, disturbing their sober neighbours; if they find any person at work, make him ride on a pole, carried on men's shoulders, to the river, over which he is to leap in a wide place, if he can; if he cannot, he must leap in, for leap he must, or pay money. About 9 o'clock they appear before the school, and demand a holiday for the Latin boys, which is invariably granted; after which they collect money from house to house. About the middle of the day they collect together, to dance hand-in-hand round the streets, to the sound of the fiddle, playing a particular tune, which they continue to do till it is dark. This they call a 'Faddy.' In the afternoon the gentility go to some farm-house in the neighbourhood to drink tea, syllabub, etc., and return in a Morris dance to the town, where they form a Faddy, and dance through the streets till it is dark, claiming a right of going through any person's house, in at one door and out at the other. And here it formerly used to end, and the company of all kinds to disperse quietly to their several habitations; but latterly corruptions have in this, as in other matters, crept in by degrees. The ladies, all elegantly dressed in white muslins, are now conducted by their partners to the ball-room, where they continue their dance till supper-time; after which they all faddy it out of the house, breaking off by degrees to their respective houses. The mobility imitate their superiors, and also adjourn to the several public-houses, where they continue their dance till midnight. It is, upon the whole, a very festive, jovial, and withal so sober, and, I believe, singular custom; and any attempt to search out the original of it, inserted in one of your future Magazines, will very much please and gratify DURGAN."
The "original" of it is still wanting--and likely to be. It is one of those obscurities which must be sought, if sought at all, in the local genius of the people.