Helston, or Helleston (St. Michael)

HELSTON, or Helleston (St. Michael), a borough and market-town, and the head of a union, in the parish of Wendron, possessing separate jurisdiction, but locally in the hundred of Kerrier, W. division of Cornwall, 17 miles from Truro, and 279 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 3584 inhabitants. This place is of considerable antiquity, and in the Domesday survey formed part of the royal demesnes, under the appellation of Henliston. King John, among other privileges bestowed on the town, made it a free borough, and gave the inhabitants power to have a mercatorial guild; Edward I. made it one of the stannary towns, and Edward III. granted a confirmation of the charter of John, and the right of a weekly market and annual fairs. The town is situated on the great road from Exeter and Plymouth, through Falmouth, to the Land's End, upon the declivity of a hill to the east of the little river Cober; and comprises four principal streets, diverging at right angles from the market-place, in the centre of which is the guildhall, lately erected on the site of the ancient market-house. It is paved, and lighted with gas; and the inhabitants are supplied with water by a stream which, flowing through the green that skirts the town, gives a neat and agreeable aspect to the place. Assemblies are held during the winter, in a spacious ball-room at the Angel inn; and a handsome structure called the Subscription Rooms, comprising a reading-room, library, savings' bank, and accommodation for other societies, has been erected at a cost of £1600. At the eastern extremity of the street which takes its name from the building, is the Coinage Hall, a well-constructed edifice, but since the recent act abolishing the duty, no longer used for that purpose; and at the western extremity, is a monumental arch, erected to the memory of Mr. Humphrey Grylls, who died in 1834.

In the neighbourhood are mines of tin, lead, and copper, which are very productive, especially the famous tin-mine of Huel Vor, about three miles westward from the town, the works of which extend more than a mile and a half under ground. The operations of roasting (according to the improved plan invented by Mr. Brunton) and smelting are carried on upon the spot; and the expense of working the mine has been estimated at £5000 per month, notwithstanding which, the proprietors are said, on one occasion, to have obtained a clear profit of £7000 in three months. A considerable number of the population is employed in the manufacture of shoes, sent to the neighbouring towns for sale; and there are some ancient and extensive quarries, from which has been raised the stone for the erection of nearly all the houses in the town. About three miles distant is the harbour of Port Leven, which has been of late much improved, and affords a facility of communication by sea. Markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday; and fairs on the Saturdays before Mid-Lent Sunday and Palm-Sunday, on Whit-Monday, July 20th, September 9th, October 28th, and the first, second, and third Saturdays before Christmas-eve. A handsome butchers' and poultry market was opened in June, 1838, adjoining the old market.

Helston received its first charter from King John, in 1201, and since that time fourteen others have been granted, under the last of which, that of George III., dated September 3rd, 1774, the corporation consisted of a mayor and four aldermen, forming the commoncouncil and governing body, assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, two serjeants-at-mace, &c. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the control is now vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and there are other justices appointed under a commission, also a recorder, and a separate court of quarter-sessions. The Guildhall, a handsome edifice erected at an expense of £6000, contains a stately hall for the transaction of public business, with court-rooms and the requisite offices; and underneath is a spacious market for corn. A commodious prison has been erected. The borough sent two members to parliament from the 26th of Edward I., to the 2nd of William IV., when it was deprived of one by the Reform act. The right of election, under the charter of 1774, was vested in the freemen, who were chosen by the corporation, and held their franchise for life; but by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the non-resident electors, except within seven miles, were disfranchised, and the privilege was extended to £10 householders within an enlarged district, comprising 5072 acres, which, for elective purposes, was substituted for the ancient borough: the mayor is returning officer. The pettysessions for the west division of the hundred of Kerrier are held here, every alternate Saturday. The powers of the county debt-court of Helston, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Helston.

The living is a rectory, annexed to the vicarage of Wendron: the tithes have been commuted for £135. The present church, a good edifice with a lofty pinnacled tower, standing on an eminence to the north of the town, was built in 1762, at an expense of £6000, the benefaction of Earl Godolphin; and has been repewed, and a gallery and handsome porch added, at an expense of £1850. There are places of worship for Baptists, and Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists; also a small grammar school. The poor-law union comprises 18 parishes or places, with a population of 32,546. Here was a castle, of which some vestiges existed when Leland visited the town, in the reign of Henry VIII.; the site is now a bowling-green. At the village of St. John, adjoining Helston, was a priory or hospital, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £14. 7. 4. Near the town is Loe Pool, one of the most considerable lakes in the county, formed by an accumulation of the waters of the river, confined by a sandbank thrown up by the waves of the sea, through which an opening is made occasionally to drain the lake. Helston has from time immemorial been noted for a popular festival held on the 8th of May, called "the Furrey," and supposed to have been derived from the Roman Floralia, or games in honour of the goddess Flora: on this occasion, persons parade and dance through the streets and in the houses with garlands of flowers, and all ranks partake of the pleasures of dancing and various rural amusements.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.