Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Swept Aside; A Fond Look Back at the Now-Rare Chimney Sweep

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Swept Aside; A Fond Look Back at the Now-Rare Chimney Sweep

Article excerpt

I CAN remember sitting by the old coal fire and watching my mother put a bit of the old oil-cloth on to blaze it up, followed by a shout from my father of "you'll set the chimney on fire".

It got me thinking of the old days and I'm now asking readers if they can remember that essential workman, the chimney sweep - it's hard to find one nowadays and they are probably known now as chimney technicians.

Right up until the 1970s you would see the old-style sweeps going around town pushing their bikes or ash barrows, with their plainly recognisable brushes tied in place.

As per their job they would normally be of a very sooty appearance - black face with brilliant white eyes and teeth; shabby and dirty clothes (obviously); but in later years they had to travel ever greater distances to ply their trade as more and more homes changed to central heating.

As well as being an essential part of society a chimney sweep was often most welcome at a wedding as they offered the promise of good fortune for the couple.

They were often invited to appear outside the church and be the first person to greet the bride, with a kiss on the cheek, after the couple walked back up the aisle following the ceremony.

For hundreds of years, sweeps have been seen as lucky figures. The story behind this is that, hundreds of years ago, the king's carriage was saved by a sweep when its horses ran out of control.

From that day forward the king announced that all sweeps were to be seen as lucky figures.

One of the many local sweeps was a lad called Joe Bilton, who was born in Albert Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, in 1888.

Joe had many jobs in his time, from window cleaner to printer, but at the age of 20 joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and served in France during the First World War in which he was wounded in action.

Back in Civvy Street, he was looking for something new when he realised the answer lay in looking up into the smoke-filled skies.

He must have said to himself: "What could be more important than a chimney sweep?" By this time Joe was living in Gloucester Road, in Elswick, and judging by the massed housing of back-tobacks he would have expected business to be brisk - and he was not disappointed. …

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