The Chimney Sweep Cometh

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Here's the chimney sweep, doing his thing

Joanna here.  I've had the sweep in. This is something chimney owners must do every year. It was particularly necessary in my case because the chimney had got itself all blocked up with hardened soot of some kind and would not, could not, draw  which is discouraging in the extreme for thos who heat with wood.

Anyhow, I called the chimney sweep and in somewhat less than a month, he arrived, complete with long brushes under his arm and expertise in his noggin.

"Peter darling! the sweep's here!"

"Oh. frabjous day! I am coming, my own, my sweep." He pattered down briskly. "What a genius you have for saying the right thing! All my life I have waited to hear those exquisite words, Peter darling, the sweep's come."
          Dorothy Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon

To make my chimney-sweeping experience vaguely relevant I love the word 'relevant'. It was very popular when I was in college to the holiday season, let me remind everybody that Santa has to come down the chimney and he certainly doesn't want to do that until the thing's been thoroughly swept.


Santa, very clean. Before chimney

The basic idea of a chimney came to folks independently in many times and places when they noticed the smoke from the fire they'd lit in the middle of the floor was hanging about the place and making them cough before it finally found its way out through the thatch or louvers up near the pitch of the roof.

"We'll chop a hole in the roof and the smoke will go out that way," they said. And indeed it did, but then the rain and snow and passing birds came in and none of this was satisfactory.

However Santa doubtless found entry a snap in those days.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
         Clement Moore, A Visit From St Nicholas
An open hearth 

In round about the Sixteenth Century, which is to say maybe four or five thousand years after wattle and daub was the great innovation in the British Isles, folks moved the smoke-escape hole to the side of the dwelling place and ran a masonry chimney down to coax smoke to the outside world. The fireplace lost its central position but remained an area wide open to the room. Folks sat real close, sometimes on benches right in the hearth itself. Most of the smoke escaped up that vent hole. So did most of the heat.

But we're talking about cleaning the thing, aren't we?

If you look up a chimney nowadays and wonder how anyone could possibly wriggle through like a climbing boy as who among us has not  it's because you're not looking at an Eighteenth Century or earlier wood-burning chimney. Chimney design changed in the Late Georgian period, in part because of . . .  coal.

Industrial expansion from Tudor times onward, (and folks would heat their houses,) had made wood scarcer and more expensive, especially near cities. Better transport made coal cheaper. Folks began to keep a scuttle of coal handy to pile on the open fire. Eventually middling folk gave up

Harold_Harvey_The_red_silk_shawl_1932 detail

A coal hearth with its grate filled with coal

their roaring open wood fires altogether, especially in cities like London, and installed grates, piled with coal.


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The sweep cometh

Coal worked efficiently in a smaller fireplace with a smaller chimney. Folks refitted wood-burning chimneys to make them narrower and built new chimneys to a slimmer standard. This changeover was taking place around the Regency, so you can have wood burning in the parlor of some grand house in Grosvenor Square but a cozy coal fire in the governess's room upstairs.

Santa doubtless adapted. He always does.

And chimney sweeps started using stout rods and brushes to clean the flues.  That's what my sweep is carrying in a long bag over his shoulder. His set of brushes.