Thursday, 8 September 2011

It's that time of year again.



Yes, the chimney sweep came this morning to sweep the multi-fuel stove chimney. Soot is so fine that it creeps everywhere, even though our sweep is very careful. So it meant emptying the room of all ornaments, putting down dustsheets and then, afterwards, giving everywhere a thorough clean. All done now and it feels good (apart from the twinges in my back). And there is black on all the dusters and cloths to prove it!

I remember having the sweep when we were children. No such things as sweep with a vacuum cleaner in those days, so there really was soot everywhere - soot which my father gathered up and put into a heap in the garden to 'weather' ready for putting round the plants.

Whenever the sweep comes I am always reminded of my first Sunday School prize, which was Charles Kingsley's "The Water Babies" which has as its hero Tom - the chimney sweep boy.

I read up a little about Kingsley this morning. He is a largely forgotten author here now but was quite famous in his day (1819 - 1875) but such an enigma of a man.He was son of a vicar and became one himself before becoming Professor of Modern History at Cambridge and Canon of Chester and Westminster. Yet he was a terrible racist.

As far as Tom in Water Babies is concerned - then Kingsley certainly championed the cause of the working man and was appalled at working conditions. It is hard to believe now that not so very long ago children were sent up chimneys to clean them out. Tom of course goes into the stream to clean himself afterwards and becomes a water baby, meeting all kinds of characters like Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by.

Even when I came up here to live in 1987, local country people did not pay anyone to sweep their chimney. A favourite method was to stuff a bag of straw or an old rubber wellington boot up the chimney and set fire to it. Another method was to drop a holly bough tied to a piece of rope down the chimney and pull it back and forth. Can you imagine the mess? Discussing this with the farmer at lunch time he says that some people would push a goose up the chimney, it would fly towards the light and dislodge the soot on its way up. I think we had better draw a veil over that method, sufficient to say that if the goose had any sense it would fly off and find somewhere else to live.

18 comments:

Crafty Green Poet said...

It's years since I've lived with a coal fire, but i remember how messy they were....

Poor goose....

jeanette from everton terrace said...

Wow, I had no idea. I have lived my whole life in Arizona - no need for chimney sweeps here I'm afraid :) My only real thought of them comes from Mary Poppins!

Leilani Lee said...

When we burned wood to heat our home, it was a yearly ritual to get the big wire brush, tape a plastic bag over the stove pipe end, and hubby would get up on the roof and scrape away the creosote buildup from the top, and then come down and do it from the other end. We always burned very dry, seasoned wood, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And we never had a flue fire. I was in someone's home once when the flue did catch fire and it was very scary.

Sue said...

We clean our own chimney/flue from the wood burner. We have to disconnect the pipe from the stove in order to get the brushes up the flue. Then it's my job to stand in the garden and shout when the brushes appear out of the chimney top. What a palaver! We're not resident all winter so fortunately only has to be done every two years. I love sitting in front of a real log fire though.
Isn't there a tradition of having a chimney sweep at weddings for luck?

Gerry Snape said...

Did you see the programme the Romantics? charles Kingley was quoted albeit because of William Blake...but it was so good to hear it spoken.
We sorted our soot brushes out with the shed tidy!!

Jinksy said...

Reading the water babies reduced me to just that - I always cried buckets!

Heather said...

My grandmother used to push a holly bough up the chimney, quite often when the fire was lit. I remember when the bough caught fire and set the chimney alight. The smoke billowed across the road and was so dense all the traffic had to slow down! This happened more than once and eventually damaged the chimney. After she had died it had to be repaired before the house could be sold. Granny didn't believe in paying someone else to do a job she thought she could do herself!

angryparsnip said...

It was really hard finding a chimney sweep in Tucson, Arizona. He moved here from New York.

I have five fireplaces in my home but really only use two. The one in my den/tv room get used often and the one in the living room/dinning room only around the holidays. I have one in my studio but I rather use a small room heater when the few really cold winter days bother me when I am sitting and working.

The poor goose....

cheers, parsnip

Robin Mac said...

What a fascinating post. We had a fireplace at home when I was growing up, but I don't ever remember having it swept - or anyone else having it done either - maybe our timber is different? I cried buckets rading The Water Babies, but I loved the story.

Gwilym Williams said...

They say it's lucky to see a chimney sweep.

My sweep does the chimney the other way. No delicate brushing. He has a big metal ball on a rope and he drops it down from the top and swings it all about.

It don't half make a noise. You'd think it'd knock the chimney down. But it don't.

One time a girl Rauchfangkehrer came and did it!

Cloudia said...

a goose!

Invaluable folklore here, my friend.
Thank you for sharing it.



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Nora said...

Gettin the chimney sweep in seems like the most practical and safe thing to do.

Pondside said...

Did you kiss the Sweep?....for good luck?

Dave King said...

I remember him. My brother and I would be sent out into the garden to make sure that his broom did come out of the chimney-top.

Toffeeapple said...

It was always a special occasion when the sweep came to our house, I loved watching for the brush to come out of the chimney. I hated the cleaning afterward though, coal soot gets everywhere as does coal dust.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for replying. I a glad I have stirred up memories for so many people.

Mary said...

Bet you feel safer now with a nice clean flue! We burn about a cord of firewood every Winter so have our chimney swept each Spring. It is expensive but worth the peace of mind knowing we'll not have a chimney fire! We love our open hearth, watching the flames dance, listening to the crackling wood, and the smell of oak and hickory - does make a lot of extra dust though with an open fire!

Happy weekend - no fire here yet as it's still hovering around 90 degrees!

Mary

Hildred and Charles said...

Yes Pat, you have stirred memories, - for most of our married life Charles had a homemade contraption made of wires and brushes that he used to clean the chimneys at least once a year. Now we have a little gas fireplace that pretends it is stuffed with logs and a heat pump outside that supposedly keeps us cool in summer and warm in winter.