Archive for the ‘Chimney Sweep’ Category

Catapulted to Purdition and Dead and Buried

September 1, 2014

This month another great double header from Eric Sanderson:
Catapulted to Perdition
Dead and Buried.


Home made catapults were a popular weapon amongst boys in that era. Made from a carefully selected forked branch, usually cut from a nearby convenient tree and fitted with two strands of 3mm square rubber made for a powerful device, easily capable of firing a stone 40 or 50 metres at high speed. A key design feature, learned from bitter experience, ensured that the forks were made long enough to avoid hitting your upright, steadying thumb when firing the projectile. Those ignorant of this crucial requirement, frequently ended up with a blackened thumb nail from which it took several weeks to recover
One summer day, a few of us had manufactured new catapults and, armed with pockets full of pebbles ( their spherical shape having better aerodynamics and so flying further & faster), decided to venture into Knostrop looking for exciting targets.
Near the top of Knostrop Lane, a small tin shack was located on the railway embankment and seemed a good candidate for target practice, having a couple of small windows and a roof which would rattle when struck. What we didn’t realise was that this was the retreat for the Railway Police and, at the time, a member of the said constabulary was in residence, probably enjoying a well earned break with a mug of hot sweet tea, a cheese butty and the Daily Mirror.
His tranquillity was brutally shattered by a fusillade of high velocity projectiles, peppering the outside with an ear splitting racket , smashing the windows and ricocheting around the inside like a swarm of angry hornets.
During a brief reloading pause, the officer emerged , helmet askew , ( he’d probably dived to the floor when the bombardment had started) roaring his anger at our intrusion into his reveries.
My guess is that he’d probably initially thought it was an assault by an abandoned German Commando group , unaware that the war was long over. Their objective being to close the valves to the Knostrop sewage works, causing a huge backup and inundating Leeds in a deep layer of S***, bringing the City to a standstill & thereby delivering a major blow for the war effort.
I could be wrong with this explanation, there could have been a more devious one.
Anyway, as he descended the embankment, no doubt intent on inflicting savage retribution upon his tormentors, we dashed off down the lane, easily outpacing the hapless constable.
After a couple of hours roaming the plantations, unsuccessfully trying to target a few squirrels, back we trudged up the lane towards Cross Green. BUT, we hadn’t counted on the cunning of the wily police officer because as we wandered back , with the earlier attack now completely forgotten by us, PC Plod was waiting and , unseen by us ,surprised us by promptly grabbing one of us with his ham sized fist.
By this time his anger had all but disappeared and, as we all owned up to the misdemeanour, a good telling off was the limit of his immediate retribution, but not before putting the fear of god into us all and confiscating our fearsome weaponry.
He further demanded our names & addresses in order to inform our parents which happened a few weeks later, just when we’d convinced ourselves that we’d got away with it.
This time, the consequences were much more severe, commencing with a regimental b*******g from my father, followed by a couple of weeks in disgrace and suspension of my weekly pocket money ‘til it was deemed I was sufficiently contrite.
A kind of suspension between a normally happy existence and everlasting misery. Perdition indeed.



Don’t be alarmed, this is not a lurid, macabre, Bram Stoker inspired tale, it’s simply recollections of a few occupations which were around in our youth (and before) but which have now disappeared altogether or at least, have become an endangered species.

One which comes to mind is the “Knocker Up”. This was a person who, for a small sum would, at an agreed time, rap on the bedroom window with a long pole. Why on earth people would use this service instead of an alarm clock, which were readily & cheaply available, baffles me, but then so does most things. What’s more, the loud rapping noise used to waken not only their clients, but half the surrounding neighbours as well.
Which reprises an old joke, about someone boasting he didn’t need a clock to tell the time, his trumpet always did the trick. Asked how that worked he replied he would simply stick his head out of the window & start playing his bugle. Without fail, someone would shout “what idiot is playing the trumpet at 3.30 in the morning”. !!
This peculiar activity ( the knocker up, not the bugler) seemed to disappear in the late 40’s or early 50’s and nowadays , being “knocked up” has an entirely different construct, not to be confused with being raised from your slumbers with a sharp rap on the bedroom window pane .

The Chimney Sweep was a common or garden sight in those days, walking around from job to job with his bundle of poles and soot collection bag, but whose occupation quickly passed into history with the introduction of the Clean Air Acts.
He was quite possibly a close neighbour but you could never tell the true identity of the man because his face was always blackened with soot.
Failure to have your chimney periodically swept could create a “chimney fire”, requiring the services of the fire brigade (as it was then called), resulting in a sorry mess as they pumped water down the chimney to quench the glowing soot.
It was always a wonder to me just how the sweep managed to contain the falling soot and preventing it from forming a dense cloud of soot inside the house and yet not keep it from covering his face, but I suppose that’s one of the tricks and mysteries of the trade. I do recollect though, a close neighbour once attempting the job himself , thinking he’d save a few bob but with disastrous results, a soot laden fog billowing from the house and a thick layer covering every surface, nook and cranny which took an age to properly clean up, and which he never lived down. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first (or the last) of this person’s DIY disasters.
Another thing always puzzled me. How was the soot disposed of ?. I don’t recollect ever seeing any signs of fly tipping but perhaps there was some by-product such as black-lead polish or a colouring agent for Black Pudding.

Even the ubiquitous Milkman is now a rare sight but which used to be an almost continuous presence on the landscape. The rattle of metallic milk crates and clatter of empties being collected and deposited into those crates was a familiar sound and probably used to wake up as many as the “Knocker Up”.
They also used to carry on their vans & trucks, large conical shaped urns from which they ladled milk into customers own jugs. I don’t remember if this was a different sort of milk or just a draught (and cheaper ?) version of the bottled variety.
The Co op milkmen though , used an electric trolley cart, travelling at walking speed , being much quieter and with less rattling than the stop start jerking of the vans and trucks . I think they also started using plastic crates to deaden the noise.
The growing presence of ’fridges and supermarkets with their long life varieties of milk put the traditional milkman under a lot of pressure requiring them to diversify into supplying eggs & other dairy food in an attempt to survive. Unfortunately for them, many didn’t survive such that here’s another everyday occupation serving the local community which has largely disappeared.

Then there’s the Lamplighter, who used to go round carrying his short triangulated ladder, checking the street gas lamps, replacing the elements and firing up the lamps at lighting up time.

The Coalman who delivered coal to almost every household , humping hessian sackloads of coal is no longer with us, nor is the mobile Knife Grinder who made periodic visits to sharpen up your kitchen hardware, although why people didn’t use a simple “Butcher’s Steel” is a bit of a mystery.

Even the local Butcher, Fishmonger & Tripeshop no longer remain in the numbers they once did, if at all, once again put under great pressure by the supermarkets. Although it could be that the local butcher is making a bit of a comeback and even the supermarkets are offering a similar service as an alternative to the pre packaged product.
Many of these had their own delivery boys who’d trundle their round on a heavy ‘bike fitted with a large wicker basket over the front wheel. They must have been a beast to control and it wouldn’t be surprising if many a tumble took place, especially in wet/icy weather.
The horse drawn carts which toured the streets offering fruit & veg, pots & pans and other hardware have become extinct along with so called Rag & Bone Men who collected old clothing and other types of unwanted goods in exchange for a few coppers.

Street entertainers, Ice Cream vendors , that is the ones, usually old Italians, with the highly decorated hand pushed carts and a big block of ice in the bottom to keep the ice cream from melting, not the Mr Whippy type of today, were to be seen regularly.

Ringtons horse drawn tea wagons were regulars , although they’ve recently been seen again (this time in small vans), along with all the other street vendors, all long since gone. But in their day , many of these tradesmen were often very persuasive salesmen and people had to learn to immunise themselves from the wiles of the wafflers and peddlers of snake oil or finish up forking out for something they didn’t want or need.

All of these absent or “dead& buried” occupations , and there’s probably many more, helped form the rich pattern of the communal life with the individuals knowing and being known by large numbers of the community.
Nowadays, very few would probably want to do some of those jobs but can their disappearance be said to have enriched the landscape ?. But that may just be “Grumpy Old Man” syndrome, thinking that things are never as good as they once were and by continuing to view a world of more than 50 years ago the same as we did when we were much younger, could mean we’ve wasted many years of our lives.

Great tales, Eric : I can picture you catapulting that railway policemen’s hut and a constable emerging with his hat askew, brilliant.

I had a walk around Manston Park at Cross Gates this week and I was delighted to see they had erected a memorial plaque and pictures of the ‘Barnbow Lasses’ 35 of them lost their lives in an explosion when they were filling shells on the 5th of December 1916.

Please see pictures remember to ‘click’ on them to make them bigger.

barnbow lasses black

barnbow lasses white

The Chimney Sweep

May 1, 2014

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

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