The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Helston Forey

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Source: Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, p. 79.

This specimen of Celtic Musick is heard in Ireland and in Wales, when the people dance round their bonfires, originally kindled in honour of the Summer Solstice, although now dedicated to St. John. In Cornwall it is almost peculiar to the town of Helston, where a Forey was annually celebrated up to recent times, with all the pantomime of a predatory excursion into the country, and a triumphant return of the inhabitants dancing to this air. Some shadow of the festival is even still preserved in the more elegant amusements of the eighty of May, but with its nature totally changed, and its name obscured, by a fanciful allusion to Greek or Roman Mythology.

Sheet Music

Editor's Notes:

The source of the following is Robert Bell, Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of England. John W. Parker and Son, 1857.


At Helstone, in Cornwall, the 8th of May is a day devoted to revelry and gaiety. It is called the Furry-day, supposed to be a corruption of Flora's day,* from the garlands worn and carried in procession during the festival.

A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1790, says, 'In the morning, very early, some troublesome rogues go round the streets [of Helstone], with drums and other noisy instruments, disturbing their sober neighbours, and singing parts of a song, the whole of which nobody now re-collects, and of which I know no more than that there is mention in it of the 'grey goose quill,' and of going 'to the green wood' to bring home 'the Summer and the May, O!'' During the festival, the gentry, tradespeople, servants, &c., dance through the streets, and thread through certain of the houses to a very old dance tune, given in the appendix to Davies Gilbert's Christmas Carols [1823], and which may also be found in Chappell's Popular Music, and other collections.

The Furry-day Song possesses no literary merit whatever; but as a part of an old and really interesting festival, it is worthy of preservation. The dance-tune has been confounded with that of the song, but Mr. Sandys, to whom we are indebted for this communication, observes that 'the dance-tune is quite different.'

Robin Hood and Little John,
They both are gone to the fair, O!
And we will go to the merry green-wood,
To see what they do there, O!
And for to chase, O!
To chase the buck and doe.
With ha-lan-tow, rumble, O!
For we were up as soon as any day, O!
And for to fetch the summer home,
The summer and the may, O!
For summer is a-come, O!
And winter is a-gone, O!

Where are those Spaniards
That make so great a boast, O?
They shall eat the grey goose feather,
And we will eat the roast, O!
In every land, O!
The land where'er we go.
With ha-lan-tow, &c

As for Saint George, O!
Saint George he was a knight, O!
Of all the knights in Christendom,
Saint George is the right, O!
In every land, O!
The land where'er we go.
With ha-lan-tow, &c.

*Mr. Bell's Note: A correspondent of Notes and Queries says that, although there is some resemblance between Flora and Furry, the latter word is derived from an old Cornish term, and signifies jubilee or fair.

Editor's Note:

I hasten to add that Mr. Bell's opinions are entirely his own.

I have been unable to locate any reference to the Helstone Forey or the Furry-day Song in my copy of Chappell's Popular Music, which is a reprint of the 1855-1859 edition.

The custom is still practised: Helston Flora Day. Please see, in particular, the Helston Furry Dance page for a good history of the day, including all the lyrics (there are five verses in the modern version according to this site).

I cannot state whether or not Mr. Gilbert's notation is correct. The Helston Town Band's web site states that no written score exists. Band members memorize their parts.

All web sites accessed on July 22, 2007. All sites open in a new window. The Hymns and Carols of Christmas disclaims responsibility for the content of external sites.

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