When people think of a chimney sweep, their mind generally conjurs up an image of a bygone age with child labour and smoke filled skies. They imagine the chimney sweeps walking up and down the street shouting their street cries to attract business. Today though, many people could be forgiven for thinking that the past is where the chimney sweep belongs and that they no longer exist. However, many chimney sweeps are reporting a mini-revival in the chimney sweeping business.
Chimney sweeps may well be considered lucky, they might even be portrayed as agile dancers, strutting their stuff on the rooftops while singing 'step in time', but there is very little about the popular conception of chimney sweeps that evokes modern day Britain.
We asked some people on the streets of Watford about the chimney sweep trade, and the associations that were conjured up were that of a Victorian era with dark, soot-filled skies; small children forced to spend their days crawling up and down chimneys and Mary Poppins with the chimney sweep with that dreadful cockney accent.
In fact, the 1956 Clean Air Act, which enforced the use of smokeless fuels in Watford and many other areas, may have been good for the environment and the quality of life of millions, but it was to be the near end to an extremely old occupation that was often passed down from father to son.
However, as householders in Watford prepare to have their flues swept clean, one surprising consequence of the current economic downturn has been a resurgence in demand for chimney sweeps.
Recent data from the National Association of Chimney Sweeps has suggested that lately they have seen an extra demand for the profession, and as a result, the recruitment of new trainee chimney sweeps.
The main reason behind this surge in chimney sweeps is the unprecedented increase in gas prices. The sales of wood burning, solid fuel and multi fuel stoves rose by 40% nationally in 2008, and proportionally in the Watford area, as homeowners tried anything and everything to cut their household bills.
This, in turn, has meant more chimneys that need to be cleaned on a regular basis and more business for the small, self employed chimney sweeps in Watford and further afield.
OK, so we are likely to see more chimney sweeps around the Watford area because of the new demand, but we won't be seeing the blacked out man with a bundle of sweeps brushes over his shoulder. Nowadays we are more likely to see a modern van, all marked up with a snazzy logo, contact details and a web address on the side. A modern day professional tradesperson with a certification to prove that they have successfully completed the National Association of Chimney Sweeps strict accreditation scheme. This is an NVQ in chimney engineering typically undertaken by the associations members. Many chimney sweeps now carry about £4,000 worth of CCTV equipment to inspect the inside of chimneys before and after sweeping them, it's certainly far kinder than sending a young boy up to do the inspection.
The work itself is still not easy though, it's hard and very physical work, so it's little wonder that the average chimney sweep tends to keep as fit as they can. Chimney sweeping is not the safest job in the world either and the sweep must be careful as the soot is carcinogenic.
Owing to the colder weather, a chimney sweeps peak season tends to run from September to March. In the quieter summer months the chimney sweep can always supplement their income by appearing at weddings as a lucky sweep. In fact this has proved to be a bit of a problem in the Watford area. Ansell Chimneys have had several phone calls asking if we were actual chimney sweeps or just fake sweeps who only appear at weddings. The lucky sweep tradition grew up from a superstition that sweeps are meant to be good luck. This dated back to King George III's life supposedly having been saved by a sweep. As a result, he stated that he would welcome anyone as a sweep and from any background but the only people he would discriminate against were anti monarchists.
Owing to the seasonal nature of the chimney sweeping job and the fact that it is usually affords the sweep a self employed status, it is, for some, a lure to get started in the profession.
A lot of people in Watford remember growing up where everything in Watford was dark, dismal, grimey and black. Not many people would want to go back to that. But with the latest technology and safety measures and not to mention the unwanted hike in gas prices, the living can be a good one; for this, Watford's chimney sweeps are counting themselves very lucky indeed.
If you would like to know more or are interested in a quote we would be happy to help. Phone us on 01923 661 614, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our enquiry form and we will be in touch as soon as possible.
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m. 07941 282 325
m. 07976 318 160