A Morris side dancing in historic Rochester
A Morris side dancing in historic Rochester
Published: Tuesday, 26th April 2022

An international celebration of folk music and dance will transform historic Rochester into a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour and sound this weekend. 

Medway’s renowned Sweeps Festival, which celebrates 40 years this year, will be held in Rochester from 10am to 6pm on Saturday, 30 April, Sunday, 1 May and Monday, 2 May.

Residents and visitors can join in the festivities at one of the largest May Day celebrations of its kind and listen to live entertainment, including folk music, and witness one of the largest gatherings of Morris sides in the world.

This year’s much awaited three-day festival celebrates its 40th anniversary, sadly postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions and safety measures in 2020 and 2021.

Morris sides dancing in the shadow of Rochester Castle

Morris sides dancing in the shadow of Rochester Castle

More than 40 Morris dancing sides from across the south-east will perform across the bank holiday weekend, alongside other talented musicians and bands. Entertainment has always been a key part of the May Day celebration in Rochester, with an array of folk music and dance for residents and visitors to enjoy. This year’s fantastic line up in the picturesque Rochester Castle gardens and surrounding areas includes French festival favourites Sur Les Docks, Kimber’s Men and The Quivering Poets.

With walking tours and folk instrument lessons, residents and visitors can connect with Medway’s culture and heritage. Children can try their hand in the accordion, harp and fiddle at drop-in instrument sessions available every day, to take a step back in time.

There will also be fair rides and stalls in the beautiful surroundings of Rochester Castle, the finest and tallest Norman castle keep in the country. Indulge in artisan produce, folk art, records and musical instruments across the town, as well as stalls in the castle grounds providing vegan food, beauty products and wellness.

We have run the festival, alongside Gordon Newton, since 1981 and we encourage residents to attend this 40-year anniversary special to immerse themselves in Medway’s history. The Sweeps Festival was revived by Gordon 40 years ago, following his research into the Green Man, also known as the Jack in the Green, and the festival is a symbol of the beginning of the British summer, which was welcomed by chimney sweeps and Morris dancers. The annual festival was designed to recreate the joy and laughter enjoyed by chimney sweeps on their traditional holiday and was even mentioned in a Charles Dickens article. 

Biggest May Day celebration of its kind in the world

Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, said: “This year the Sweeps Festival will see bigger and better celebrations for residents and visitors to enjoy, including a variety of performances, a Jack-in-the-Green ceremony and a record fair. I am pleased that there is fun for all the family this bank holiday weekend at the biggest May Day celebration of its kind in the world. The Sweeps Festival is one of the biggest celebrations in Medway’s events calendar, putting us on the map as a leading tourist destination in the south-east. The festival has activities for all ages and abilities on offer, which supports our aspiration to make Medway even more Child-Friendly. I would encourage residents to invite their family and friends to enjoy what Medway has to offer.”

Welcoming people to the friendly festival

Gordon Newton, founder of the festival, said: “40 years ago I founded the Rochester Sweeps Festival to celebrate English traditions associated with May Day and commemorate the climbing boys and their master sweeps accompanied by the Jack in the Green, throughout our nation’s history. I am delighted that during all these years the festival has gone from strength to strength through the support of Medway Council and the Morris teams that travel across the country to enjoy the day. I am particularly excited about this important anniversary and am looking forward to welcoming people to this weekend’s event which is known as ‘the friendly festival’ to enjoy the many events that we have on offer over the three days.”

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