Monday, 6 May 2013

Sweeps Festival 2013

I generally try to have a look-in at our annual Sweeps Festival in Rochester, and this year's (the 33rd) was no different.

The festival stems from the practice in a bygone era of the boys who were sent up chimneys to clean them having a special free day where they could have a great time away from their miserable day-to-day lives. These days, it is more a celebration of the sweeps, so boys dress up as sweeps and make themselves 'look dirty' as if it were a working day for them (I imagine they originally washed off the grime for their day out).

In reality, it is one of our slightly less interesting events, as essentially it's just a load of Morris sides performing in the street. In fact, it is believed to be the biggest congregation of Morris men (and women) in Europe, apparently with more than sixty sides taking part. Yes, there are the usual fairground, ice cream vans and burger bars in the Castle Gardens, but the event itself is rather one-dimensional.

Don't get me wrong: I am quite a fan of the Morris, and have been for many years, following a couple of sides in my home town of Wimbledon for example. It's just that it doesn't seem to be sufficient somehow, even with the dressing-up that local people do at the drop of a (Victorian) hat.

It is therefore very gratifying to find that just about all of historic Rochester was more-or-less packed, as least as much as we get during the summer Dickens Festival. The warm sunny weather will have contributed to this, but on a bank holiday weekend when many people go away for these few days it was a remarkable success story, finishing later today.

I didn't take any kind of camera with me, still or video, as others always do, and several video clips of this year's event have already appeared at YouTube, such as this rather well-produced one by a John Martin...

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