The Chimney Sweep

by

Here’s another great tale from our favourite Aussie Pom,
Audrey Sanderson, (nee Tyres)
Our own East Leeds lass, loving life in Australia, but still has a place in her heart for old East Leeds

THE CHIMNEY SWEEP
I never saw a sweep arrive at anyone’s house with a clean face. Did they deliberately smear soot on themselves to look authentic no matter how early they started work?
Old sheets and curtains were draped over furniture before he arrived. He then unrolled his bundle of poles and the big flat headed brush on the pavement outside the door and put one of his soot stained sheets over the fire grate, anchoring it down around the old black fireplace. The neighbourhood kids gathered outside waiting for the brush to appear out of the chimney on the roof. If there were kids living the house paying for the sweeps services they got a grandstand view of watching him fit the poles together as he pushed the brush up inside the chimney. This procedure seemed to go on a long time to us kids before he told us to go outside and yell when we saw the brush pop up out of the chimney. The kids of the house plus about 20 other kids stood in the middle of the road and yelled their heads off at the sight of the brush. Most of the sweeps would jiggle the brush and twirl it round to amuse the kids.
We were never allowed back in the house until all the poles and brush had been dragged back down the chimney and the bag of soot removed outside.
The entertainment over all the other kids went off to play. We had to go back inside the house to help clean the fine soot that had escaped when the sweep was packing up his gear.
It happened quite frequently but the kids never tired of waiting to see the big brush pop out of the chimney and jiggle about. ,It was a Mary Poppins and Bert antic without the music.
There’s nothing remarkable about the little tale above. Nearly everyone had seen a chimney sweep at work sometime in their childhood. But there wasn’t too many kids in our area who had a mother who took Do-It-Yourself Chimney Sweeping literally.
Nellie was always on the lookout to save a bob or two and said it looked simple enough to fit the poles together, push it up the chimney, twiddle it around a bit to make the kids laugh and pull brush and poles back down again.
When she told Dad what she was going to do he said it was a silly idea and what would she do if the brush got stuck inside the chimney. Both me and my older brother said we could push Norman, our youngest brother, up the chimney as he was small enough to fit. Mum was horrified that me and Alan could think of such a thing and the DIY sweep kit wasn’t mentioned for a while.
When Mum got a bee in her bonnet she never let it rest until someone convinced her her ideas wouldn’t work or she’d do it anyhow and get herself in a hell of a mess and someone had to rectify the problem.
I can’t remember where she had seen the ad. for the DIY sweep kit. Probably a newspaper, it wasn’t the type of ad. you’d see in a woman’s magazine.
We came home from school to find mum on her hands and knees on the floor surrounded by heaps of poles and a large flat headed pristine clean brush all laid out on the brown paper it had been delivered in.
Like a kid with a new toy she screwed the brush to a pole. If you had never been inside one of those small terraced house you can’t imagine how small an area we had to move around in a room with a couch and two easy chairs, an old fashioned sideboard with the big shield shaped 3 mirrors on the back and taking up the space of one wall, a drop leaf table, 2 dining chairs and Dad’s pride and joy an electric radiogram that was a piece of furniture in it’s self and highly polished. We had a space of not much bigger than a hearth rug to walk around in. We 3 kids couldn’t walk anywhere with all the poles littering the floor. We all wanted to have a go fitting the poles together. Mum said we’d bugger up the metal threads at each end of each pole and to leave them alone. Dad wasn’t thrilled when he came home from work, said it was a waste of money and IF she ever did get around to using it she’d have to call the fire brigade to get the brush out of the chimney.
Nellie! Defeated? Not on your life. Can’t keep anything quiet in them little streets. Auntie Maggie, next door told Martha, she told Mrs Toohey who lived opposite, she told Mrs Simpson next door and so it went on down both sides of the street. By the next day the entire East End Park area had heard of the woman who was going into business as a chimney sweep. Mum got cold feet. She didn’t want an audience on her maiden voyage up the chimney. It’s not a kind of job you can do in the middle of the night while everyone is asleep. The big black fireplace not only provided heat from the coal fire in the grate but it also heated up the oven at the side of it and had a trivet that swung over the burning coals to heat the kettle for hot water. All our cooking was done on the fireplace plus it had a big brass fireguard surrounding it to prevent us kids falling onto the open fire and came in very handy for drying the washing when it was raining.
Eventually the morning came when operation sooty became an event. Mum followed the instructions. The brush head had to be fitted first, so far so good, then a pole, then another pole. All had to be turned in a clockwise direction and anti-clockwise when it was being dismantled. Sounds simple enough? All instructions sound simple when you first read them. Same as watching an expert do a job, it looks so easy, anybody can do it.
We 3 kids were told to stand back and not get in the way. We stood near the door, well out of the way of getting legs and ankles clouted by metal poles. Not so far away that we couldn’t see what mum was doing. When there was no more space left to fit anymore poles the brush had to go up the chimney. Alan, who was always cheeky cleared his throat and said ” I name this brush Sweep. God bless it and all who go with it ” Norman and me clapped our hands and Mum with a face like thunder yelled at us to get outside and watch for the brush coming out of the chimney. Outside we went. We waited and waited and waited some more. Alan yelled out ” Can’t see it yet ” Aunt Maggie came out asking what he was looking for. You answered politely when adults spoke to you so he told he he was waiting for the brush to pop out of the chimney. In a flash Maggie was inside our house giving Mum advice. Didn’t hear what she said but heard her yelling at Maggie. Maggie joined us in the middle of the road with faces looking up to the roof.
It didn’t take long before other neighbours came outside to have a look. We went inside to tell mum no need for us to stay outside all the neighbours were looking to see when the brush came out. The sweat was pouring out of her and she was frantically tugging on one of the poles. She told Alan to help her. He’s pushing, she’s pulling, he gets a punch on the arm and she tells him she’s trying to get the bloody thing out not push it up.
Neither of them could budge it one way or the other. The sheets that had been draped over the fireplace had fallen down and soot was falling onto the hearth and billowing out at every fall of more soot.
Nothing worked so Mum said she’d go and get her brother who lived a couple of streets from us. She didn’t react kindly to the smart Alec comments from the neighbours as she marched off to Uncle Tom’s house.
Within minutes they both returned Mum looking relieved and Tom with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Uncle Tom along with Mum’s other brothers was a bit of a know all. They were all experts at everything until it came to the crunch then they reverted to if it doesn’t fit give it a thump and it soon will.
We stayed outside in the street with the neighbours having witnessed lots of previous verbal battles between Mum and Tom. Lots of banging from inside the house, Mum yelling at Tom not to twist the poles as he’d unscrew them and the brush would be stuck forever. He yelled back telling her to shut up he knew what he was doing. There was a rumbling noise from within and Mum yelling louder, ” You stupid bloody fool. Look at the mess you’ve made!” Tom yelled back she was ungrateful and he’d got the brush out hadn’t he. She said he’d brought half the chimney down with it as well.
We had visions of a ton of soot covered bricks littering the carpet so we stayed outside. Tom came to the door covered in soot and glared at Martha as she asked if he was going to sing a chorus of, ” Mammy ” It was a song made popular by the singer Al Jolson who wore black face makeup when he sang many songs. No sign of Mum so Maggie went inside the house. She soon came back to the door, hands on hips she said in a raised voice ” Well, don’t just stand there gawking. You’ve had the entertainment, now get buckets and mops and get yourselves in here. She’ll never get it cleaned up on her own before Bert gets home from work.”
No kids allowed as the women brought brooms, mops and buckets and plenty of dusters.
You’d think that would have been the first and last time Mum tried to be the first lady chimney sweep. You didn’t know my mother. Could not stand the humiliation of everyone saying, ” Told you so ” and was more determined to make it work right the next time.
Grandma wasn’t enthusiastic on being told her chimney needed sweeping and Mum was going to do it. Uncle Tom of course had told all the rellies Mum was a lunatic for attempting to do a man’s job. That was like a red rag to a bull as far as Mum was concerned. Grandma’s chimney was going to be swept even if she’d had to climb up inside it and clean it with a hand brush. I’m glad to say the event at Grandma’s went off without a hitch. Of course there was only Mum and Gran to witness how successful it was. The Aunts and Uncles didn’t believe it had gone off smoothly and said Grandma was covering up for the mess Mum had made. None of them took up Mum’s offer to sweep their chimneys so she smugly cleaned our and Grandma’s chimneys on a regular basis. She took great delight in telling them to buy their own sweep kits when they whinged how much the Sweep had charged them to perform the task.
Many years later when the old black fireplace had been replaced with a modern tiled fireplace and a modern gas fire instead of using coal Dad was very pleased. He had the job of getting rid of the soot from the chimney. He had an allotment at the end of Red Road opposite the Bridgefield pub and dumped it on his veggie patch. I don’t know if it improved the structure of the soil but Dad said he could smell the soot for days after dumping it.
The tiled fireplace was easier to clean than the mammoth job of black leading and polishing the old one but not as entertaining.

**************************************************************************
Certainly not as entertaining as your great tale, Audrey. Thanks for entertaining us!

Remember the ‘Bug Hutch?’ (The Picture House Easy Road) poster supplied by Mr Gibbins
Of course posters don’t give the year – they’d think we knew what year we were in but Dave ‘googled’ the film and it was released in 1931.’Click’ on picture to make bigger
Just look at those prices!easy rd2

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6 Responses to “The Chimney Sweep”

  1. Eric Says:

    Another great tale Audrey , you’ve captured the strange attraction that the chimney sweep was to the local kids. I also remember someone having a go at “do it yourself”, and with similar consequences. I wonder if was your Mum ?. You’re right about him (or was it a her?) having a black face at whatever time of day, no one ever knew the identity of the sweep, he could have been your neighbour, your uncle, even your dad, you never could tell.
    I always wondered how & where they disposed of the soot, probably to the local butchers as a colouring agent for black pudding.
    Keep ’em coming, your yarns are always top class

  2. songs Says:

    Excellent web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to
    find high-quality writing like yours these days.
    I seriously appreciate individuals like you!

    Take care!!

  3. Douglas Says:

    A great story Audrey, thank you. I remember the chimney sweeping of those days. I also remember seeing a chimney or two on fire because someone had neglected to sweep for a few years. Chimney fires drew as good crowds as well.
    For a number of years I swept the chimney of our slow combstion stove. When we lived in the country near Adelaide we needed the stove only in the winter from about June to August, but the wood we burned left a lot of soot. It was only a one-storey house and I had to climb onto the roof, take off the cowl, and poke the brush down from the top knocking the soot down into the firebox. The last time I vowed never again because getting back onto the ladder from the corrugated iron roof was a bit of a nightmare, and old men and ladders don’t mix too well – ask the accident and emergency units of the hospitals. Tell us more Audrey, you write so vividly, but take it easy on your Mam, she was only trying to save a bob or two.

  4. Dave Carncross Says:

    Audrey. Another great tale again. One thing you had to remember in those old houses was that a lot of them also had a fireplace in the bedroom directly above the living room and sharing the same chimney of course. This meant that unless you blocked up the bedroom fireplace you could end up with a soot-filled bedroom. Not something you would like to find when you went up to bed. Your Mam incidentally seems to have had a very strong personality from this and your previous tales. Your Dad must have had an interesting life working around her all those years. I can just imagine him going to the pub and trying to explain to his mates that he’d left the wife at home sweeping the chimney.

  5. aussiepom Says:

    Thank you Gentlemen and ‘ Song ‘ for your kind words. Life wasn’t quiet in our house for very long. Mum had 8 brothers and sister, Dad had 5, there was always some one popping in and out with a tale to tell. Dad finally called a halt to anymore DIY projects by Mum and Tom after they nearly set fire to the house. They were going to repaint the cupboard doors at the side of the chimney breast. ” Don’t bother sanding off the old paint ” Tom said ” We’ll use the blow torch instead” !!!

  6. drake back by back Says:

    You know, Jimmy Brooks from Degrassi, since most people probably knew him at
    that moment.

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