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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sweeps Festival

Having promised to post about our afternoon at Rochester Sweeps Festival, here goes. The Sweeps Festival was revived in 1981 but the history behind it is that it was celebrated by the sweeps traditionally on 1st May each year and was the only day of the year that they could leave the soot and dirt behind and have some fun. The day started with Jack-in-the-Green (a seven foot character) being awakened at dawn on Blue Bell Hill, Chatham, and Jack would walk with the sweeps in their parade. A Jack-in-the-Green ceremony is still held these days though the closest resemblance to Jack-in-the Green that I saw in the parade on Monday was a man walking along inside a bush! I suppose this makes sense though when one considers that Jack-in-the-Green was regarded as the traditional representation of the burgeoning forces of spring

He seemed very jolly, all considered, and kept stopping to ask people watching the procession if they were enjoying themselves!

I adore Rochester at any time as it's a very atmospheric sort of place with a wealth of historical buildings but the Sweeps Festival really enhanced these qualities. The festival, which spanned over the whole bank holiday weekend and culminated in the procession, included concerts (one being a Fairport Convention concert on Sunday), guitar and percussion workshops, and various folk bands in most of the pubs.

I started off by having a mooch around some of the shops and enhanced my stash of necklaces and pendants for the Charity Craft Fair by buying a few more at 50p apiece.

Then we walked around for a while and passed by the Castle . . . . .

. . . . . before settling down in the Kings Head where Dammit! were playing.

There were hand painted idioms on the walls here and there as you can see from the photo above but this one, particulary, in the photo below, grabbed my fancy.

Just as I was photographing the wording, the guy you can see at the left of the photo walked by and apologised profusely because he thought he'd spoilt my photo. I assured him it was quite okay and that he hadn't spoilt it at all. Later, when I looked at the photo, I thought, "Hey, bruv! He looks like Eastenders' Grant Mitchell"!

Dammit! performed a medley of folk songs, and a few drinks later, (a fair few drinks later, in fact) we reached the finale to which I joined in with the best of them and sang along with gusto!

Her eyes they shone like dia-monds
They called her the queen of the land
And her hair was slung over her shou-eld-er
Tied up with a black velvet band . . . . .

And then we left the twilight world of the bar and all that communal body heat and caterwauling singing for the comparative cool and light of the streets where we found a small gap in which to stand amongst the throngs of people lining the edge of the pavement in anticipation of the procession. Eventually, we heard the sounds of drums, accordians, melodeons and other instruments as well as the tinkling of the Morris Dancers' bells and the procession rounded the corner from the Castle Gardens into the High Street. Much entertainment followed via the colourful display of the various morris dancer sides and their enthusiastic clicking, clacking, skipping and, at times, stumbling, as they gradually danced their way along the High Street.

Here are a few photos of the parade to give you a taster. Just click on the images to enlarge if you want a closer look.

Then back home we went and, after reparations including a pot of strong coffee, I finished the amulet bag (speaking of which, it's now packed up ready to go to dreamcatcher, and will be posted tomorrow).


  • At 4:13 pm, Blogger Seahorse said…

    Sounds and looks fantastic! I love the fact that all these odd old traditions are still alive and well in different corners of the country.
    Hope there wasn't a 'morning after' to face after the knees up in the pub!

  • At 5:01 pm, Blogger nanatoo said…

    Sounds like my kind of day! Glad you had a good time Hazel.

  • At 5:52 pm, Blogger Cherry Rolfe said…

    Great tradition - what Britain does best - and nothing was harmed in the making!!!

  • At 11:21 pm, Blogger Rain said…

    It looks and sounds like a fabulous day out. I'm always really pleased to see English heritage and culture being celebrated and it looks like there were plenty of people enjoying it as much as you.

    That's officially on my list of things to do one year so thanks for sharing it.

  • At 8:43 am, Blogger Daisy said…

    Oooh, looks like fun! How's your head? ;-)

  • At 8:48 am, Blogger acrylik said…

    What a wonderful day - thank you so much for posting, I really enjoyed reading all about it. Your photos really capture the atmosphere.


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