Updated 22nd January 2020 - Lead image courtesy of Priscilla Haselhurst
Sadly, the 2020 Sweeps Festival has been cancelled
PLEASE NOTE: We are not affiliated with this event in any way, we just think it's a great day out!
Following on from the success of the 2019 celebrations, the 2020 Rochester Sweeps Festival 3-day event looks set to go ahead on the Friday 1st, Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd May 2020. This is despite the controversial decision by the Government to move the May Bank Holiday of 2020 to Friday 8th May to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day.
2020 May Day Controversy
The Government's decision to move the 2020 May Bank Holiday (which is traditionally celebrated on a Monday) to a Friday has been met with a plethora of protests up and down the country by event organisers of traditional May Day Festivals.
Some festivals around the UK will change their usual dates and the 2020 Rochester Sweeps Festival has done the same. Typically, the event culminates on the first Monday of May (which is usually the May Day Bank Holiday) but this year, the final day will be on Sunday 3rd May 2020. So, make sure you don't arrive in Rochester on Monday, because there won't be a sweep in sight!
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse, make sure you check and confirm that the above information is still correct by visiting the Rochester Sweeps Festival page on Facebook to double-check times and dates if you're thinking of attending the 2020 event.
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. Last year in 2019 was no exception and it was jam-packed with a huge variety of great entertainment. We've no doubt that the 2020 lineup will be equally impressive and we should be able to post a complete list here nearer the time.
Now in its 40th year and 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.
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 2019, we're also expecting and 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 2020 too.
You'll also hopefully be able to enjoy much of what was on offer at last year's 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.
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.
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.
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.
Travelling to the 2020 Rochester Sweeps Festival
It's going to be a very busy time in Rochester over the 2020 (formerly!) May Day Bank Holiday weekend so getting there by car and finding somewhere to park could be tricky. There is a multi-storey car park with 321 bays and 18 disabled bays for visitors to Rochester but as you can image, this will fill up pretty quickly.
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. Rochester is also served really well by various buses for those who don't live too far away and you'll also be able to get there by coach if you search for coach operators that are providing services to Rochester over the weekend.
When we're not blogging about local events, we keep ourselves busy fitting and installing custom made-to-measure blinds throughout Rochester in Kent.