Published: Tuesday, 2nd April 2019

Rochester High Street will be taken over by the clattering of clogs, the clashing of sticks and colourful musicians playing traditional English music during this year’s Sweeps Festival.

The festival is one of the largest traditional May Day celebrations of its kind and will take place throughout Rochester from Saturday, 4 May to Monday, 6 May 2019.

Three hundred years ago children were used as chimney sweeps and an annual holiday on 1 May allowed them to have some fun. Rochester’s chimney sweeps staged a procession each year to collect money but after it become illegal to employing climbing boys in 1868 the tradition began to fade.

The last May celebration was held in the early 1900s until local historian Gordon Newton revived the celebration in 1981 after he found an article by Charles Dickens describing the celebration. Medway Council has continued to support the festival, alongside Gordon, ever since.

The annual festival recreates the joy and laughter enjoyed by chimney sweeps at their traditional holiday. Jack-in-the-Green, a two metre tall walking bush, the ancient symbol of the arrival of spring, will join hundreds of Morris dancers from across the UK to celebrate the festival. Jack-in-the-Green will also lead the Sweeps Parade at 2.45pm on Monday, 6 May, from Star Hill.

There will be fun for all the family in the castle gardens, folk-art and psychic fair, children’s fun fair, real ale tent and a vegan fair.

A range of bands will perform an eclectic mix of high class folk music throughout the festival for visitors to enjoy for free on stages across Rochester.

A local produce fair will also be held in the Kings Head car park and all the way up Boley Hill.

At Boley Hill there will be a musical instrument fair, a recollect record fair and live performances.

Splat! Will also return to Rochester Castle moat on Monday, 6 May, from 11am to 4pm for a big picnic. There will be a mixture of free and affordable fun activities including family craft workshops, children’s shows and roaming performers during the Rochester Sweeps Festival.

This year visitors will also have the chance to watch two great folk acts on a sailing barge. An Evening with Sally Ironmonger will take place on Saturday, 4 May, at 6pm on Sailing Barge Kitty. Sally is one of Medway’s finest singer/songwriters and has the unique ability to write poignant songs about everyday things. She will be accompanied by her husband Brian on guitar.

An Evening with Kimber’s Men will then take place on Sunday, 5 May, at 6pm on Sailing Barge Kitty. Kimber’s Men have featured twice on Sunday Brunch for Channel 4 and starred in the BBC2 and BBC4 production of Sea Songs, with Gareth Malone, the latter being the most viewed programme of the year on BBC 4. They are returning from an Australian tour to perform at Sweeps on Sailing Barge Kitty.

Visitors can also take part in an interactive performance with Kimber’s Men during a sea shanty workshop at the Huguenot Museum on Sunday, 5 May, from 11am to 12.30pm. They will sing shanties and work songs against the backdrop of film footage from the last days of the tall ships. Attendees will also learn about square riggers and get first-hand knowledge of life on board from Kimber’s Men. Tickets cost £6.

Tickets for each evening costs £10, tickets for the sea shanty workshop costs £6. For more information or to book call 01634 338338.

Before the festival begins, members of the public are invited to attend the dawn awakening ceremony of Jack-in-the-Green at 5.32am on Wednesday, 1 May, at  the Blue Bell Hill picnic area in Common Road.

Packed full of entertainment

Dawn Hudd, Assistant Director of Physical and Cultural Regeneration at Medway Council, said: “This year’s Sweeps Festival is packed full of entertainment and activities for the whole family to enjoy. Sweeps is one of Medway’s most popular festivals and we’re looking forward to welcoming thousands of residents and visitors to Rochester.”

Find out more.

News archive