of the chimney sweep:
Throughout the centuries, chimney sweeps have cared for the
safety of the townfolk, performing one of those dirty jobs
nobody likes to do. Most American cities had ordinances
requiring regular chimney sweeping as a valuable safety
service. Homes were located very close together and everyone
burned wood or coal to heat and cook. Our job is as important
today as ever but sweeps now care for chimneys serving a huge
variety of home appliances and heating fuels
Why the tophat & tails?
did chimney sweeps wear tophats and tails? They are said to
have most often gotten their clothing as cast-offs from
funeral directors. The outfit was always a very practical
black in color, and gave an air of distinction to a dirty,
though necessary, job. Chimney sweeps often served double duty
as the town's "nightman", whose job it was to clean out the
privy. It is said that chimney sweeps wore slippers because
they could be more easily removed, freeing the toes to aid
their climbing grip.
The luck of the chimney sweep..
Did you know that it's good luck to see a chimney sweep on
your wedding day, and most especially to shake his hand or be
kissed by him? Many chimney sweeps today are still invited to
weddings to help assure a good start to a happy marriage. The
tradition goes back, so it is said, to a chimney sweep who
lost his footing and fell from a roof. He was caught on the
gutter and hanging by his foot when a young lass, whose hand
was intended for another, reached through the window and
pulled him in, saving his life. They fell in love and the two
were later married.
Pigs and chimney sweeps are linked together in tradition as
good luck charms. It once was customary for the town chimney
sweep to tote a pig through the streets on New Year's Day;
people paid a small sum to make a wish while pulling a hair
from the pig.
The lucky little chimney sweeps are pictured here with good
luck symbols - the horseshoe and shamrock.
Being a chimney sweep was not lucky for the little girls and
boys who had this job in the 1700's to 1800's. They were a
type of indentured servant, bought by the chimney sweep
master. The master was to teach them the trade while being
responsible for housing them. Their job was to actually climb
up, inside the chimney, brushing the flue as they went, and
they weren't done til their heads poked out of the chimney
top. This, of course, was a scary job for these children and
they were often reluctant to perform as expected. Many masters
used a dangerous punishment: the child was forced up the flue
then a fire was lit. Since he couldn't come down, they had no
choice but to climb up the flue. We think this is where the
term "light a fire under you" originated.
These children lived in deplorable conditions. They carried a
large sack with them, into which they dumped the soot they
swept from the chimneys. They used this same sack as a blanket
to sleep in at night, and only bathed infrequently. They were
often sickly, and learned to beg handouts of food and clothing
from their customers as all the money they earned went to
their masters. The soot they collected was sold to farmers for
So when you meet a sweep, remember to shake his hand for luck,
for it's a safer home you have when you use the services of a
professional chimney sweep.
- by the Victorian Fireplace Shop