Thousands of people take to the streets to celebrate the return of the Sweeps Festival to Rochester

Large crowds poured into the streets for the return of the Sweeps Festival, after the pandemic forced it to be canceled for two years.

The event celebrates its 40th anniversary and the first day in Rochester is already well underway.

Sweeps Festival kicks off the holiday

The festivities of one of the largest May Day celebrations of its kind include live folk music performances and one of the largest Morris gatherings in the world.

It began today with an official opening ceremony by the Mayor of Medway, Councilor Jan Aldous, outside the Guildhall Museum. This was followed by a dance showcase in the museum forecourt.

More than 40 Morris dance crews from across the Southeast will perform throughout the holiday weekend, alongside other musicians and bands.

This year’s lineup in and around Rochester Castle Gardens includes French festival favorites Sur Les Docks, Kimber’s Men and The Quivering Poets.

During the three days of performance, there will be walking tours and folk instrument lessons. Children can try their hand at accordion, harp and violin during free instrument sessions available daily.

Visitors can also browse the range of stalls in the castle grounds, which will serve food, drink and handmade gifts.

It’s the first day of the festivities this weekend. Photo: Medway Council
The Sweeps Festival is back in Rochester.  Photo: David Newport
The Sweeps Festival is back in Rochester. Photo: David Newport

Medway Council has run the festival, alongside its founder, businessman Gordon Newton, since 1981.

It was revived by Mr Newton following his research into the Green Man, also known as Jack in the Green, and is a symbol of the early British summer, which was welcomed by chimney sweeps and Morris dancers.

It aimed to recreate the joy and laughter enjoyed by chimney sweeps on their traditional holiday and was even mentioned by Charles Dickens.

Large crowds gathered for the first day of the festival Photo: David Newport
Large crowds gathered for the first day of the festival Photo: David Newport
The festival celebrates its 40th anniversary.  Photo: Medway Council
The festival celebrates its 40th anniversary. Photo: Medway Council

Mr Newton said: “I founded the Rochester Sweeps Festival to celebrate English traditions associated with May Day and to commemorate climbers and their master sweepers accompanied by the Jack in the Green, throughout our nation’s history.

“I am delighted that over all these years the festival has grown stronger thanks to the support of the Medway Council and the Morris teams who travel the country to enjoy the day.

“I am particularly excited about this milestone anniversary and look forward to welcoming people to this weekend’s event which is known as the ‘Friendly Festival’ to take advantage of the many events we offer over the three days.”

The Sweeps festival in Rochester is well under way.  Photo: Medway Council
The Sweeps festival in Rochester is well under way. Photo: Medway Council

Cllr Howard Doe, portfolio holder of the Medway Council for Community Services, said: “This year the Sweeps Festival will see bigger and better celebrations for residents and visitors, including a variety of performances, a Jack- in-the-Green and a record fair.

“This is one of the biggest celebrations on Medway’s calendar of events, putting us on the map as a premier tourist destination in the South East.”

The Sweeps Festival runs from Saturday April 30 to Monday May 2 from 11 a.m. The event is free and no pre-booking is necessary, and you can find the full festival schedule here.

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