An Annual Chimney Sweep Celebration
As we are currently in the midst of celebrating the holidays, it seems a fitting time to consider what types of celebrations chimney sweeps have. The Rochester Sweeps Festival is an annual extravaganza in England which has ties back to over 400 years ago, when small boys cleaned chimneys by climbing them from bottom to top. In those long-ago days, the young boys had one day off per year on May 1 in celebration of spring. The boys rejoiced by excitedly running through the streets, dancing and singing. In a reintroduction of that tradition, there has been much celebration at the Rochester Sweeps Festival every May since 1980. Every year more activities are added to the festival for the enjoyment of tourists from all over the world who travel to England to participate. The event has been described as a Mardi Gras for chimney sweeps.
The awakening of the Jack-in-the-Green is another tradition that is kept alive at the Rochester Sweeps Festival. Hundreds of years ago, people wore elaborate costumes to celebrate the arrival of spring. They adorned themselves with strands of leaves and flowers, and now many are costumed entirely, such as the leader who appears to be an 8-foot-high tree. The Jack-in-the-Green begins a procession at dawn every day of the festival.
Followed by the man costumed as a tree there is always a parade of soot-covered chimney sweeps and traditional Morris dancers.
The history of Morris dancing is difficult to pin down, but one of the earliest references goes back to 1458, in which a will was written that mentioned a silver cup with a Morris Dance sculpted on it. Apparently the dance had already made its way into the knickknack industry at that point. Some believe that the origins of the dance are also tied with the beginning of spring, same as chimney sweeps.
Morris dancers usually wear bell pads on their shins; and they may also wield such implements as handkerchiefs, sticks, or swords. There are various Morris dancing routines, such as one in which one or two men perform near and across two criss-crossed clay tobacco pipes that are on the floor. In the processions at the chimney sweep festivals, the dance usually involves six to ten dancers in various costumes. Sometimes Morris dancers paint their faces black and wear tattered clothing; others dress in bright colors with unique, detailed belts.
The activities at the Rochester Sweeps festivals continue into the night at local pubs where music is played by popular bands and people engage in celebratory drinking.
Despite the strong ties to the beginning of spring which are inherent to the chimney sweep festival, members of Parliament have attempted to move the annual celebration to a different time of year, in order to extend the season of tourism. The proposal has not effected change so far; the 2014 festival is scheduled for May 3, 4, and 5.
Chimney sweeps are a valued part of history, especially in England, where the beloved musical Mary Poppins was set and Dick Van Dyke was the chief chimney sweep, a man with a song in his heart and a spring in his step.
Contact us today where our chimney sweeps carry on the tradition of keeping our customers’ chimneys safe and in good working condition.
Chimney Solutions, Inc.
1155 McFarland 400 Drive, Alpharetta GA 30004