Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Rochester Sweeps Festival, 2017

Posted on by royvickery |

Throughout much of the nineteenth century chimney-sweeps would parade through urban areas with a Jack-in-the-Green on May Day.  In Rochester, Kent, in about 1870, ‘it was not considered May Day if we had not seen at least three Jacks-in-the-Green and their attendants’.  It is unknown when this custom died out, but it was revived early in the 1980s, and now the Rochester Sweeps Festival is a weekend-long event, with singing, dancing and music, food stalls, a fun fair and other attractions, which culminates in the Sweeps Procession on the Bank Holiday afternoon.

The Procession is led by people dressed as Victorian chimney-sweeps, followed by a Jack-in-the-Green, and a number of dance groups, mostly morris sides, but, in 2017, also belly-dancers, and a children’s Irish dance group.  Unlike other revivals, where the emphasis is on Jack, at Rochester the emphasis is on the sweeps, and the Jack is a simple, rudimentary structure – a frame covered in ivy (Hedera helix) with a man inside it.  Also, although it seems that other celebrations attract a number of people who feel they are participating in an ancient pagan festival, at Rochester it seems that no one regards it as anything more than a cheerful way of spending a bank holiday weekend.

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