The Staxx
Cullingford, Benita. British Chimney Sweeps: Five Centuries Of Chimney Sweeping. Lewes, England : Book Guild, 2000. Print.
Benjamin Watson’s trade card.  (Reproduced with permission from the Museum of London)

Cullingford, Benita. British Chimney Sweeps: Five Centuries Of Chimney Sweeping. Lewes, England : Book Guild, 2000. Print.

Benjamin Watson’s trade card.  (Reproduced with permission from the Museum of London)

The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Jacopo Amigoni, from London Street Life, c. 1739. (Reproduced by kind permission of Guildhall Library, Corporation of London)
In the first half of the 18th century, London climbing boys wore special clothing made from sheepskin.  The waistcoat was laced on and tucked under the breeches, and though some soot penetrated, it served as a great protection.  Regardless of seasons a shirt and trousers were worn, though it was prudent to remove trousers when descending narrow chimneys as too much soot collected in the pockets.  Feet became hardened when no shoes or stockings were worn.  Moreover, walking was preferable to riding a donkey on frosty mornings, as piercing winds caused chilblains or frostbite.  When this happened, climbing into a hot chimney was a pleasure.
A country sweep’s only protection against the elements was his soot sack.  The sack was large and adaptable.  It could be used as a cloak, a head covering, mattress, pillow, or blanket, as well as a screen in front of the  open fireplace (while sweeping the chimney).  It also served as a weapon or as protection against attack: swung when full, or twisted and knotted when empty.  Often used as a handy container for personal goods, it could become a hiding place, either for its owner or any stolen booty - all in addition to its main function, the storage of soot.  Considering its many uses it is no surprise that contemporary illustrators always depicted young sweeps with their sacks.

The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Jacopo Amigoni, from London Street Life, c. 1739. (Reproduced by kind permission of Guildhall Library, Corporation of London)

In the first half of the 18th century, London climbing boys wore special clothing made from sheepskin.  The waistcoat was laced on and tucked under the breeches, and though some soot penetrated, it served as a great protection.  Regardless of seasons a shirt and trousers were worn, though it was prudent to remove trousers when descending narrow chimneys as too much soot collected in the pockets.  Feet became hardened when no shoes or stockings were worn.  Moreover, walking was preferable to riding a donkey on frosty mornings, as piercing winds caused chilblains or frostbite.  When this happened, climbing into a hot chimney was a pleasure.

A country sweep’s only protection against the elements was his soot sack.  The sack was large and adaptable.  It could be used as a cloak, a head covering, mattress, pillow, or blanket, as well as a screen in front of the  open fireplace (while sweeping the chimney).  It also served as a weapon or as protection against attack: swung when full, or twisted and knotted when empty.  Often used as a handy container for personal goods, it could become a hiding place, either for its owner or any stolen booty - all in addition to its main function, the storage of soot.  Considering its many uses it is no surprise that contemporary illustrators always depicted young sweeps with their sacks.

We first learn something about chimney sweeps’ appearance from Shakespeare.  In 17th century literature, chimney sweeps were portrayed with soot-blackened features.  Their ‘funereal’ appearance is alluded to in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline written around 1609.  The ‘unbeknown’ sons of King Cymbeline chant the following lament for their sister Imogen, who is believed dead:
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, 
Nor the furious winter rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers come to dust.
Shakespeare contrasts the golden looks of Imogen (who is disguised as a boy) with the grimy appearance of chimney sweepers, yet implies that they are all equal in death.

We first learn something about chimney sweeps’ appearance from Shakespeare.  In 17th century literature, chimney sweeps were portrayed with soot-blackened features.  Their ‘funereal’ appearance is alluded to in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline written around 1609.  The ‘unbeknown’ sons of King Cymbeline chant the following lament for their sister Imogen, who is believed dead:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, 

Nor the furious winter rages,

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers come to dust.

Shakespeare contrasts the golden looks of Imogen (who is disguised as a boy) with the grimy appearance of chimney sweepers, yet implies that they are all equal in death.

 There were even occasions of hilarity in climbing.  Many a time when in good spirits, I have sung at my work; I and another boy in an empty house have raced each other up and down a pair of chimneys out of fun, and I have dared to ascent when even the chimney-stack has rocked with my weight and movements.
George Elson remembered one particular chimney at Mount Sorrell (four miles from Loughborough), where the house had been pulled down but the chimney remained.  He had mischievously climbed it, though it rocked from side to side.
Chatteris, ‘the town of treacle chimneys’, was the name given by climbing boys to chimneys on the Isle of Ely.  Skillful climbers could only attempt the slippery narrow interiors of the chimneys.  They were climbed as quickly as possible without stopping, to avoid slipping down with the soot.
Other peculiar chimneys were those contrived with a single shaft for two or three fireplaces.  Smoke ascending from a flue that was not being swept caused confusion, particularly when the sweeper returning from the top was unsure which flue he had taken.  Descending the wrong flue could sometimes be to their advantage; as a means of escape, for instance, or an unexpected chance to marvel at the cleanliness and wealth of the gentry, either in the dining-room, the parlour, or the upper bed-chambers.  Because furnishings were covered or removed when chimney sweeps called, such wonders were rarely seen.

There were even occasions of hilarity in climbing.  Many a time when in good spirits, I have sung at my work; I and another boy in an empty house have raced each other up and down a pair of chimneys out of fun, and I have dared to ascent when even the chimney-stack has rocked with my weight and movements.

George Elson remembered one particular chimney at Mount Sorrell (four miles from Loughborough), where the house had been pulled down but the chimney remained.  He had mischievously climbed it, though it rocked from side to side.

Chatteris, ‘the town of treacle chimneys’, was the name given by climbing boys to chimneys on the Isle of Ely.  Skillful climbers could only attempt the slippery narrow interiors of the chimneys.  They were climbed as quickly as possible without stopping, to avoid slipping down with the soot.

Other peculiar chimneys were those contrived with a single shaft for two or three fireplaces.  Smoke ascending from a flue that was not being swept caused confusion, particularly when the sweeper returning from the top was unsure which flue he had taken.  Descending the wrong flue could sometimes be to their advantage; as a means of escape, for instance, or an unexpected chance to marvel at the cleanliness and wealth of the gentry, either in the dining-room, the parlour, or the upper bed-chambers.  Because furnishings were covered or removed when chimney sweeps called, such wonders were rarely seen.

By tradition chimney sweeps have always been taken as talismans of good fortune.  Customs varied according to where one lived.  In some parts of the country to tap a sweep’s shoulder or touch his clothing, or even walk in his shadow was thought lucky.  One tradition, though, remains paramount: the presence of a chimney sweep at a wedding.  If a chimney sweep kisses the bride on the cheek then good fortune is sure to follow.
No one knows why chimney sweeps are supposed to bring luck to a wedding.  The tradition is thought to originate from the 18th century, when it is rumoured that an unknown chimney sweep grabbed the reins of a panicking horse saving the rider from a fatal accident.  The sweep then disappeared into the crowd before he could be thanked.  The grateful rider, being none other than the king himself, afterwards declared that all chimney sweeps should be treated with honour.  The ‘luck’ of the monarch then became the sweeps’ talisman.  
It is more likely, though, that the association between weddings, luck, and chimney sweeps evolved from a much earlier time.  In Imperial Rome (around the first century AD) weddings took place in the bridegroom’s home.  After the ceremony, the bride’s husband presented her with a lighted torch and a vessel of water (symbolising fire and water; essentials for maintaining a Roman home).  The bride lit a fire on the hearth, then tossed the torch to the guests who scrambled for it as a lucky momento.

By tradition chimney sweeps have always been taken as talismans of good fortune.  Customs varied according to where one lived.  In some parts of the country to tap a sweep’s shoulder or touch his clothing, or even walk in his shadow was thought lucky.  One tradition, though, remains paramount: the presence of a chimney sweep at a wedding.  If a chimney sweep kisses the bride on the cheek then good fortune is sure to follow.

No one knows why chimney sweeps are supposed to bring luck to a wedding.  The tradition is thought to originate from the 18th century, when it is rumoured that an unknown chimney sweep grabbed the reins of a panicking horse saving the rider from a fatal accident.  The sweep then disappeared into the crowd before he could be thanked.  The grateful rider, being none other than the king himself, afterwards declared that all chimney sweeps should be treated with honour.  The ‘luck’ of the monarch then became the sweeps’ talisman.  

It is more likely, though, that the association between weddings, luck, and chimney sweeps evolved from a much earlier time.  In Imperial Rome (around the first century AD) weddings took place in the bridegroom’s home.  After the ceremony, the bride’s husband presented her with a lighted torch and a vessel of water (symbolising fire and water; essentials for maintaining a Roman home).  The bride lit a fire on the hearth, then tossed the torch to the guests who scrambled for it as a lucky momento.

Caricatures of the 50th Division of the United Body of the Journeymen, Chimney Sweepers and Nightmen, 1834.  (Acknowledgements, Armley, Mills, Leeds)

Caricatures of the 50th Division of the United Body of the Journeymen, Chimney Sweepers and Nightmen, 1834.  (Acknowledgements, Armley, Mills, Leeds)

On 28th May 1789, John Elin became the first person to register a patent for a chimney-sweeping machine.  Mr Elin, Gentleman, Pimlico, Hanover Square, described his invention (patent No 1682) as an ‘elastic brush’ that would ‘last for years and serve every chimney in the House’.  His machine consisted of brushes attached around four frames.  The apparatus forming either a square or rectangular shape could extend to 18” and contract to 3”.  The brush was drawn up the chimney by a horse-hair line constantly suspended in the chimney, over a pulley fixed at the top.

On 28th May 1789, John Elin became the first person to register a patent for a chimney-sweeping machine.  Mr Elin, Gentleman, Pimlico, Hanover Square, described his invention (patent No 1682) as an ‘elastic brush’ that would ‘last for years and serve every chimney in the House’.  His machine consisted of brushes attached around four frames.  The apparatus forming either a square or rectangular shape could extend to 18” and contract to 3”.  The brush was drawn up the chimney by a horse-hair line constantly suspended in the chimney, over a pulley fixed at the top.