Rochester Sweeps Festival is an annual festival that takes place in the city of (you guessed it..!) Rochester in Kent. It takes place over the first weekend of May every year, and dancers from across the UK travel to perform, meet friends and have a few tankards of ale! As it states on the Medway website, “the festival is thought to be the largest congrgation of Morris dancers in Europe”. In other words, if you like morris dancers and morris dancing, this is a festival for you!
The name “Sweeps” originates from the holiday for the 19th century chimney sweeps. Every year in Rochester they would have a holiday on the 1st of May and they would celebrate by staging a procession through the streets. In 1868 it became illegal to employ young children to be chimney sweeps and the procession gradually faded out and the early 1900s. The festival was revived in 1980, and now a procession takes place on the Monday afternoon, featuring the Jack-in-the-Green, children dressed as sweeps and many, many morris dancers!
I really love Rochester Sweeps festival. Despite not dancing much any more, I always come to a couple of rehearsals pre-May day weekend, so that I can back into the swing of things, ready for Rochester Sweeps Festival! There’s always a wonderful variety of morris sides that perform and I love seeing the new dances and getting to see both new and familiar faces! The atmosphere never fails to bring a smile to people’s faces, whether the sun is shining down on us, or the rain is falling…
Despite still being a big cough-y, tired and achey, I can’t wait to get to Rochester and dance this year. I’m sure many photos will accompany me when I return to Essex next week!