Rochester: May Day Sweeps Festival: Morris Dancing, an English tradition.


To Rochester, where we like to go every May if we can for at least one day of the annual Sweeps Festival of folk music, dancing (especially Morris dancing) traditional crafts and family fun. 

There was the usual range of Morris dancing. 

Traditional Cotswold.

 Molly Dancing, often disguised (aka guising, faces camoflagued or dressed as a lady) so as not to be apprehended for vagrancy later. I touched on this in my first long post back in 2006 here.  

Rapper – a northern style danced with cudgels, has received a punk/goth/pagan/steampunk influence in recent years. 

Several dance groups whose heritage is Eastern and Central Europe dance at Rochester in recent years, bringing their tradition in friendship and neighbourliness to meet ours. These ladies are Slovak. 

I enjoy the music as much, probably more, than the dancing. 

But there’s always somebody who isn’t happy. A high street coffee shop, on a day when the town was crammed with happy people dancing, singing, wanting food and drink, not just discouraging customers who wanted a hot drink and something tasty but raising again that irritating prejudice of those ignorant of the history of English customs, by barring anybody guised or molly dancing. Not to mention the sweeps themselves.  

Strangely, while every other refreshment outlet was doing a roaring trade (in the cathedral crypt tea room their Victoria sponge was flying off the counter like hot cakes) this shop had no customers. 

These ladies and gentlemen were not worried about not being served patisserie and craft coffee. They were singing a sea shanty about English Ships on the Briney Ocean and they had BEER. And good company. 

Photographs E Weatherwax Kent May 2019

2 Responses

  1. You’re confusing border dancing,with black or coloured faces and sticks with rapper,which is a miners dance from the northeast danced with short flexible swords.

  2. Peter – thank you for the clarification.
    I don’t dance, although I have friends who did (before their knees gave out).

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