Rochester Sweeps Festival 2024, Kent – Dates & Information

*Article last updated 1st May 2024

Please note, we’re not affiliated with the Rochester Sweeps Festival (we just love the event!) so are unable to answer your questions directly.

We’re once again delighted to announce the return of this colourful festival to the streets of Kent. Now in its 42nd year, the 2024 Sweeps Festival takes to the streets of Rochester on:

Saturday 4th May to Monday 6th May 2024 (10am and 6pm) at Rochester High Street, ME1 1LX.

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse and see who and what will be taking to the streets in 2024, here are some useful links:

What’s normally on?

To see this year’s lineup, click on the “View events programme” button above.

We’ve left the information below from previous years on this page to give you an idea of what you can expect to see in 2024. If you’d like to know about timings and specific acts, please use the Facebook link above to get the latest, up-to-date info.

What to expect

Whilst there’s always plenty going on in Rochester throughout the year, the Rochester Sweeps Festival is perhaps one of the best events to attend in Kent as it symbolizes the start of summer for many of us and helps drag us out of the melancholy of the winter doldrums. The last event was no exception and it was jam-packed with a huge variety of great entertainment and we’ve no doubt that the 2024 lineup will be equally impressive.

A few pictures

A big thanks to Sally King who provided the lovely pics you see in the gallery below.

Other attractions & entertainment

Dubbed “the biggest folklore festival of its type in the UK”, Medway’s Rochester Sweeps Festival is always jam-packed with a dazzling array of traditional music, dancing and entertainment and as you’d expect, there’s no shortage of traditional Morris dancers to keep you smiling over the 3-day festivities.

Rochester sweeps festival folk entertainmentRochester Sweeps Folk Entertainment – Photo: Priscilla Haselhurst

Of course, there will also be many local bars, cafes and restaurants to serve you food and drink over the weekend as well as plenty of local vendors on Rochester High Street. Similar to other years, we’re also expecting an artisan fair, folk-art/psychic fair, a funfair for the kids, the main festival stage and a real ale tent (yum!) with a fully licensed bar for 2024 too.

You’ll also hopefully be able to enjoy much of what was on offer at the last Sweeps Festival which included tours of Rochester Cathedral, the Sweeps Concert Night, the awakening of the Jack in the Green and the Sweeps Parade.

Why is it called the Rochester Sweeps Festival?

Chimney sweeps typically only had one day off during the year and this was May Day so, as you can imagine, it was the time when they really wanted to have some fun! They did this by merging several folk traditions and parading through the streets, dancing and singing with the Jack in the Green.

Rochester Sweeps Maypole celebrationRochester Sweeps Maypole celebration – Photo: Priscilla Haselhurst

These types of festivals had largely died out around the country by the early 1900s after young children were finally banned from sweeping chimneys. The Rochester Sweeps festival was revived in 1981 and still has ‘Jack’, who is awoken by dancers and sweeps early on May Morning. The Jack is then paraded through the streets accompanied by dancers and sweeps.

What is a Jack in the Green?

The Jack in the Green festival dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries in England. Originally it was a May Day celebration where people would make garlands with flowers and greenery. The garlands became increasingly elaborate as work’s guilds would compete against each other, eventually so extravagantly that they covered the body entirely. The garlands were originally carried by milkmaids during May Day Parades – They became larger and more intricate to the point where they would balance them on their heads whilst the rest of their bodies would be adorned with silver houseware.

History of Jack in the Green London, 18th CenturyA chimney sweeps’ Jack in the Green dances with the “Lord and Lady of the May in 18th century London -courtesy of SA

The Chimney Sweep’s guild, not to be outdone by this and also to earn more coins from the watching crowds, upped their game to the point of covering their whole bodies in a framework covered in foliage and flowers. This became known as The Jack in the Green, a familiar participant in May Day Parades. The garlands are made out of a framework usually conical or pyramid in shape, covered in different types of fauna and flora.

May Day was traditionally a holiday for the Chimney Sweeps and became known as “Chimney Sweeper’s day”. The association between the Jack in the Green and chimney sweeps continues today. Jack in the Green became known as a practical joker associated with licentious and bawdy behaviour which soon became disapproved of in Victorian England.

Popularity dwindled by the mid-1800s and was replaced with a more manageable and sober pretty May Queen and naughty Jack pretty much disappeared from parades. This was largely due to rival sweeps competing with each other, becoming unruly and being reported upon negatively in newspapers.

Cheltenham May Day Jack in the Green 1892Cheltenham May Day Jack in the Green 1892

Jack in the Green did emigrate during the 1800s along with Chimney sweeps and their families looking for work overseas but quickly met the same fate as those in England.

Knutsford is said to be the oldest continual Jack in the Green Parade as part of the May Day celebrations since 1890 but was a more Victorian well-behaved affair.

Rochester Sweeps Festival 2023 travel information Image courtesy of ClemRutter: Link

Travelling to the Rochester Sweeps Festival

Car parking, train and bus travel information

It’s going to be a very busy time in Rochester over the 2024 May Day Bank Holiday weekend (Saturday 4th May to Monday 6th Mayso getting there by car and finding somewhere to park could be tricky. There is usually a multi-storey car park with 321 bays and 18 disabled bays for visitors to Rochester but as you can imagine, this will fill up pretty quickly.

By car
Visit this link if you want a full list of nearby car parks.

By train
Travelling by train is a good idea if you live further afield as Rochester station is only a short walk from Rochester High Street. If you’re planning to get there by train, visit the South Eastern Railway website.

By bus/coach
Rochester is also served really well by various buses for those who don’t live too far away. To fine-tune your trip, please visit the Arriva Bus website. You should also be able to get to Rochester by coach if you search for coach operators that are providing services over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend.

Park & Walk
You’ll be able to park your vehicle at Jackson’s Field, Rochester ME4 6TJ. It then takes about 10 minutes to walk to Rochester High Street. The cost of parking is £3 per vehicle and the site closes at 7pm. You can’t leave your vehicle there overnight.

About Us

When we’re not blogging about local events, we keep ourselves busy fitting and installing custom made-to-measure blinds throughout Rochester, blinds in Medway and fitting window blinds in Maidstone

Leave a comment

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This