Go to navigation

A dirty job celebrated by someone’s clear vision

Date: 09/04/2008           Category: Events

Medway’s Sweeps Festival recreates the revelry enjoyed by the chimney sweeps at their traditional holiday. This year it takes place from Saturday, 3 May to Monday, 5 May. Four hundred years ago this was the one time of the year the sweeps could leave the soot behind and have some fun. The sweeps’ holiday was traditionally held on 1 May each year. Locally, they used to mark the occasion by staging a procession through the streets of Rochester. Their fun continued with the Jack-in-the-Green ceremony, a seven-foot character that they used to waken at dawn on Blue Bell Hill, Chatham. Jack-in-the-Green would walk with the chimney sweeps in their parade. When the Climbing Boys’ Act 1868 made it illegal to employ young boys to carry out the trade, the traditional procession gradually began to fade. The final May celebration was held in the early 1900s. The modern-day Rochester Sweeps Festival is a colourful mix of music, dancing and entertainment with more than 60 Morris sides and entertainers celebrating throughout the three-day festival. A keen historian and local businessman Gordon Newton, who also founded the Faversham Hop Festival, revived the Sweeps Festival in 1980. Over the years he has helped develop it into what it has become today – an extravaganza of traditional Britain. Gordon researched the Sweeps’ tradition and organised a small parade, involving local Morris teams. For seven years, he funded the increasingly popular Sweeps Festival until he formed a partnership with Medway Council. Today, Gordon remains actively involved, as both festival producer and melodeon player for several Morris teams. The festival’s music director, Doug Hudson, is a familiar face on the local and national folk scene and lead singer with the Hot Rats. Each year the pair presents its ideas to the council’s Events Team, aiming to add something a little different to the mix of entertainment each year. Free music and entertainment is always on offer at a wide range of venues. On Sunday afternoon, 4 May, at the Rochester Castle Gardens Concert Marquee you can catch a group of local musicians performing a tribute to The Byrds’ country classic The Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The same venue plays host to more famous names at three nightly concerts from 7.30pm. Denny Laine headlines the gig on Friday, 2 May. Best-known as one of the co-founders of Wings with Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Laine has shared the stage with many leading musicians of the past forty years. The Battlefield Band supported by The Dealers play on Saturday, 3 May. Entertainment on Sunday, 4 May comes from Show of Hands, with support from Wheeler Street. If your dancing feet can stand it, late night extras at The Corn Exchange take place from 10pm-1am. The live music continues at The Festival Ceilidh on Saturday night and the Sweeps Ball on Sunday. Through Gordon’s vision and hard work, Doug’s musical ability and the council’s help, the Rochester Sweeps Festival has become the largest May Day celebration of its kind in the country. You don’t have to know much about Morris dancing to enjoy the festival: It has more than enough atmosphere to go round. For tickets and more details, phone Medway Visitor Information Centre on 01634 843666 or email visitor.centre@medway.gov.uk or visit www.medway.gov.uk/sweepsfestival ends