Hundreds of Morris dancers, including a group from New Zealand, will perform in Rochester during the Sweeps Festival.
300 years ago children were used as chimney sweeps and an annual holiday on 1 May gave them the chance to have some fun. Rochester’s chimney sweeps staged a procession each year to collect money but, when it became illegal to employ climbing boys to carry out the trade in 1868, the tradition began to fade.
The last May celebration was held in the early 1900s until keen local historian Gordon Newton revived the celebration in 1981. Medway Council has continued to support the festival, alongside Gordon, ever since. The Sweeps Festival will be held on Saturday 5 May, Sunday 6 May and Monday 7 May 2018 in Rochester.
Hundreds of Morris dancers from across the country, and the Ragged Crow group from New Zealand, will come together to perform across the High Street.
Before the festival begins, members of the public are invited to the Jack-in-the-Green awakening ceremony at the Blue Bell Hill picnic area, Common Road, on Tuesday, 1 May at 5.33am. Jack-in-the-Green is an eight foot walking bush which has been associated with the Rochester Chimney Sweeps since the mid 1600s. It’s the ancient symbol of the arrival of spring is awakened on May Day each year. Jack-in-the-Green will also lead a parade of dancers and performers along the High Street at 2.45pm on Monday 7 May.
Packed with performances
The festival, which is the largest May Day celebrations of its kind, will be packed with performances and events which will keep the whole family entertained. There will be a folk-art and psychic fair, children’s fun fair and real ale tent and a fully licensed bar in Rochester Castle Gardens alongside a Artisan Produce Fair. This year the produce fair will have a vegan area with a variety of stalls selling vegan products and produce. There will also be a musical instrument fair, record fair and performances at Boley Hill.
This year English roots band Edward II will perform in front of the castle keep in a ticketed concert on Saturday 5 May, during the festival. The band blends the rhythms of the Caribbean with traditional English songs born in the industrial revolution. Edward II has reworked them into modern roots reggae classics, featuring Glen Latouche’s vocals at and a rhythm section led by T Carthy. Funke and the Two Tone Baby will also perform.
‘One of the largest May Day celebrations of its kind’
Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, said: “The Sweeps Festival is one of the highlights of Medway’s events calendar and one of the largest May Day celebrations of its kind. The festival is packed full of street performances and fairs for all the family to enjoy. We’re looking forward to welcoming thousands of residents and visitors to Rochester.”
Theo Carthy, Edward II bassist and vocalist, said: “We are really excited to be getting back to Rochester for this year’s Sweeps Festival. It is a truly unique event and the setting in the Castle Gardens is really quite remarkable. As a celebration of the Morris tradition we hope to bring an exotic twist to the weekend which I am sure will be appreciated by dancers and general public alike.”
For more information, or to book tickets to see Edward II, visit Medway Tickets Live or call the box office on 01634 338 338.