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Hundreds of Morris dancers to perform at Sweeps Festival
Morris dancers from across England will be sweeping across
Rochester in celebration of a festival which
started hundreds of years ago.
The annual Sweeps Festival, which is being held
on Saturday 29 and Sunday, 30
April, and Monday, 1 May, celebrates
chimney sweeps on their traditional holiday.
Three hundred years ago children were used as chimney sweeps,
earning very little. Their traditional holiday, on 1 May, gave them
the chance to leave the soot behind and have some fun. The chimney
sweeps of Rochester annually staged a procession to collect money,
but in 1868 it became illegal to employ climbing boys to carry out
the trade and the tradition began to fade.
The final May celebration was held in the early 1900s until
local keen historian Gordon Newton revived the celebration in 1981.
In conjunction with Gordon, Medway Council has continued to support
the festival in Rochester ever since.
Annual traditional festival
Hundreds of Morris sides have continued to support the Sweeps
Festival performing a variety of regional dance styles from
throughout England, as well as taking part in this ancient
Morris dance is a form of English folk dance accompanied by
music. There are many different styles of Morris dancing and their
traditions usually vary depending on the region. Border Morris and
the Cotswold Morris are just two of the types of Morris dancing
groups which are attending this year’s Sweeps Festival.
Border Morris dancers
Border Morris dancers are great fun to watch. Their colourful,
noisy and energetic form of traditional dance originates from the
borders of England and Wales. The blackened faces of the dancers
are a ritual disguise, and they perform with sticks and never with
handkerchiefs. The jackets worn by Border Morris dancers are
colourful and made of strips of material sewn onto jackets. Top
hats are frequently worn which are highly decorated with feathers
Cotswold Morris group
The Cotswold Morris group consists of dances performed by teams
of men or women usually dressed in white and with ‘Baldricks’ -
coloured bands across their chests denoting their team colours and
bells around their legs. The style of dance usually encompasses
both the use of white handkerchiefs and sticks. Hats are normally
covered in flowers and ribbons, and the music is usually provided
by concertinas, melodeons or in some cases by a whistle and tabor.
Many of the dances emanate from villages within the Cotswolds, with
each village having its own style.
Then there is the Jack-in-the Green; an eight foot walking bush
which has been associated with the Rochester Chimney Sweeps since
the mid 1600s and featured in Charles Dickens’ article ‘Sketches by
Boz’. It is the ancient symbol of the arrival of spring and is
awakened each year on May Day. The Jack-in-the Green will be
attending this year’s Sweeps Festival and will be leading the
procession of dancers, chimney sweeps and climbing boys through the
streets of Rochester on Monday, 1 May.
Gordon Newton, who founded the festival 37-years ago, said: “The
Sweeps Festival has become part of my life and it is wonderful to
see how it has grown to be the largest festival of Morris dance in
Kick start your summer with our May Day festival
As well as street performances, there will be even more fun
activities for the family to enjoy at Rochester Castle Moat. This
year’s Sweeps Festival sees Splat! heading to Rochester on Monday 1
May, with free craft workshops, children’s shows and roaming
performers to entertain the family between 11am and 4pm.
Throughout the weekend, there will be five outdoor stages with
live music to add to the exciting atmosphere of the festival, as
well as a musical instrument fair, record fair and artisan produce
out the full list of performances and activities taking
place over the weekend.
Sweeps Festival will entertain thousands
Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder in charge of events, Cllr
Howard Doe, said: “We’re pleased to be hosting traditions that date
back from hundreds of years ago and hope people locally and from
further afield continue to support an occasion which marks the
historic trade of chimney sweeping.
“Sweeps Festival attracts thousands of people from across the
country and provides a weekend packed full of street performances
and activities for all the family. I have no doubts that this
year’s celebration will continue to impress.”