Chimney Articles

12 Aug 2012 3 Pieces of Chimney Sweep Folklore

--Article contributed by High’s Chimney Service, company that performs chimney cleaning in Potomac Marylandand the surrounding areas.

Chimney cleaning is a very old profession, one with a rich history. Some of this history is quite interesting, albeit impossible to verify as not being folk legend.  Three very popular bits of chimney sweep folklore were said to have been contributed in 18thcentury England.

Light a fire under him!

One legend has it that this phrase, which means “motivate him”, was a phrase originated by master chimney sweeps, likely in 18thcentury England. During this period, there was a high demand for professional chimney sweeps to clean the narrow chimneys that were abundant during this time of English urbanization, due to regulations governing the permitted width of the chimneys. Because the chimneys were too narrow for an adult to climb up to clean them, children were employed —typically young orphan boys who became indentured servants for lack of better options. Climbing up a dirty, dark, dangerous chimney was hard and rather scary, and some “climbing boys” may have understandably had difficulty and apprehension regarding the ascent. Legend has it that it was not uncommon for a master sweeps to motivate a young employee to climb up by “lighting a fire under him”. I know I’m glad we don’t live in the 1700s.

Top hat and coat-tails

No one really knows for sure, but there sure are a few interesting theories as to how the top hat and coattails became the traditional garb of chimney sweeps. There are a few versions based on the premise that the clothes came from the deceased. Most sources believe that the practice of wearing the iconic top hat and coat-tails also originated during the 18thcentury. This time period was a dangerous one for chimney sweeps, who generally had a lower than average lifespan due to accidents, cancers, and lung diseases, and chimney sweeps were no strangers to funerals. A very popular version states that funeral directors took pity on the climbing boys by donating the formal clothes of the dead, a top hat and coattails to the boys. The handsome black clothes enabled the boys to look nice even when covered in black soot, and this fashionable and functional attire soon became the unofficial uniform of chimney sweeps.

Lucky Wedding Presence

One superstition that is especially popular in Great Britain is that a chimney sweep will bring good luck, especially to a couple on their wedding day. Some chimney sweeps even “rent” themselves out for weddings, and many people believe that a bride will have good luck if kissed on the cheek by a sweep on her special day.

According to lore, this superstition originated when King George II was riding in a procession and his horse got scared, and the King lost the grip of his bridle.  As the horse bucked uncontrollably, a chimney sweep emerged from the crowd, grabbed the bridle, and calmed the horse — saving the king from falling on his royal neck. It is said that the King declared all chimney sweeps to be lucky after that day, and the belief spread like… fire.


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