A Clean Sweep?
There was an item about my august profession on Radio 4’s Home Truths this morning (listen again). It was fascinating to hear from fellow sweeps, some of whom came from families which had been sweeping chimneys for 200 years or more, the trade being passed on from father to son.
When I’m out sweeping, people are often surprised to find that we still use brushes and rods. This equipment goes back to at least the 1830’s, when laws were passed outlawing the practice of sending small children up the chimney to clean them. Most people know that small boys used to be used to clean chimneys, but they may not be aware of some other methods which were once employed, including dragging a holly branch through the chimney or sending up a live turkey! I have actually met people out in the villages of Warwickshire who remember the holly bush method.
I’m not sure where the idea that, in the words of Dick Van Dyke, ‘a sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be’ comes from. This guy has a few ideas. One story goes back to George II. Apparently, the horses for the royal carriage were going wild on one occasion and the only person who could get them to calm down was a chimney sweep. The lucky sweep idea somehow became connected to the folklore of weddings. It was meant to be lucky to see a sweep, or especially a sweep’s brush popping out of a chimney on the way to the church. At some point sweeps began to be invited to attend weddings, to be in the photographs and to give the bride a lucky kiss as she leaves the church. Many sweeps now advertise this service as a means to supplement their income (although this guy doesn’t seem to actually do any sweeping, just wedding appearances, surely that doesn’t count!) My boss Colin has so far resisted this practice, probably 'cos he's far too busy sweeping. Maybe if I go forward for ordination as a vicar I could play both parts!