Photo0567In tehse days of central heating it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like to have had fires burning in every room – if you could afford it! These days people love having an open fire, or a nice wood-burning stove, but imagine if every day you had to clean out the old embers, set the fire, light it, and keep it going, wipe round the grate… Chimneys seemed to feature in so many stories that I read as child, not just ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley about the fate of poor boys sent up the chimneys to clean them (not outlawed until 1875!) and the horrible sweep in ‘Oliver Twist’, but adventures around things hid in chimneys or people escaping up chimneys, or strange things falling down chimneys. One of my favourite books was ‘The Chimneys of Green Knowe’, by  Today there are still chimney sweeps and it can cost as much as £100 to have one chimney swept!


  1. Peter Bull

    Didn’t this post wake up some long-buried memories for me!

    My mother’s fear of the chimney catching fire eventually overcoming her reluctance to call in the sweep, because, despite how careful he was, there was always some messy soot left behind to clean up in the lounge room, where we always had a coal or wood fire burning (the kitchen boiler used some sort of smokeless coke); the sooty grubbiness of the sweep, always an older man with terribly dirty hands and black fingernails; the bundle of flexible cane rods with threaded ferrules on each end that pushed the circular radiating long-bristled brush up the flue behind the canvas sheet thing that he hung from the mantlepiece to contain (most of) the dislodged soot; going out into the garden and yelling out to the sweep when the brush to come out the top of the chimney (as if he didn’t know when that happened)…

    I thought all chimneys were like ours, and I thought Charles Kingsley’s book was ridiculous because there was no way any child could climb up the inside of a chimney – I tried to do that one summer after I’d read the book in primary school, so I knew it couldn’t be done, not realising how much bigger the chimneys were in large houses in the old days.

    Thanks, Lois.


    1. Lois

      Great story, Peter. I don’t remember the sweep although our chimneys were swept, but I remember the brush coming out of the top and how exciting that was! I also remember the particular smell of soot, every so often now I will be somewhere and catch a whiff of it and it takes me right back to my childhood! I also remember the smell of coal, which always reminded me of bacon… how strange, but again if I smell it now – flash, and I’m back in the 50’s… and of course there is the very distinctive smell of a chimney fire!


  2. poetmcgonagall

    I remember proper fireplaces – “the place of fire” – from when I was a kid. I was fascinated by the process of making fires, and for a time lived in a house with an iron stove. I really miss the pleasure of making a fire, as much as the comfort of sitting in front of one. They’re the natural focal point of a room, which has now been usurped by the television.


    1. Lois

      I would love to have a fire, I really would especially now I work from home and would have the time to set it. Sadly we have a modern chimney, fit only for a gas fire… oner day when I’m rich and build my dream house…!


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