The Light Side of Chimney Sweep Trivia

Chimney SweepWhat does stair-step architecture, button-rubbing, a whalebone, a pig, and good luck at a wedding have to do with chimney sweeps? Don’t be surprised if you don’t know the answers to that question. While chimney sweeps today perform the important task of keeping chimneys safe, there isn’t much in their appearance or our conversation that serves to remind us of the profession’s colorful history. Enjoy the light side of centuries-old chimney sweep trivia.

Crow-Stepped Gables

Some say that a popular type of architecture that began showing up in the 15th century was inspired by the need for chimney sweeps to be able to safely perform their chimney inspections & repairs. You can just imagine that before there were a lot of options for safely accessing chimney tops, chimney sweeps had a tough job to do, with a serious risk of falling. Crow-stepped or stepped gables are a stairstep design used on the gable end of buildings that are triangular in shape. They provided better access not only for chimney sweeps but also for people who had to work on roofing. As just one of countless examples of the design, Culross Palace, built in the early 17th century, in Fife, Scotland, is widely known for having crow-stepped gables and a statue of a woman in a veil posing on the gable step.

Button-Rubbing for Luck

In Poland and Croatia, you are considered lucky if you rub one of the buttons on your clothing as you pass a chimney sweep in the street.

Wedding Day Luck

There are a couple of legends behind the superstition that seeing a chimney sweep on the day of your wedding is good luck, which may be why people in various parts of the world still believe in this tradition today. In one story that supposedly took place in about 1066, a chimney sweep rescued King William of Britain by pushing him clear of a path moments before the king was struck by a horse and carriage barreling straight for him. The king rewarded the chimney sweep by inviting him to his daughter’s wedding and making a decree that chimney sweeps should be regarded as symbols of good luck.

In another legend, a chimney sweep almost fell to the ground from the roof, but his foot got caught in the rain gutter. A young maiden who was engaged to another man pulled him into the building through a window. The two of them fell in love and eventually got married.

An Invention with Whale Bones

A major turning point in the chimney sweep industry occurred when in the late 1800s Joseph Glass invented the first effective non-human chimney-cleaning instrument (climbing boys had been used previously). Glass’s cane and brush tool, made with whale bones, for cleaning chimneys was very effective. His original design is still used today, though with different materials, such as polypropylene or nylon.

Pigs and Chimney Sweeps

Chimney Sweep HistoryAnother of many stories about the luck of chimney sweeps involves pigs. It was a custom on New Year’s Day, centuries ago, for a chimney sweep to stroll through the streets carrying a pig. It was considered good luck to pay the chimney sweep a small sum, make a wish, and at the same time pull a hair from the pig.

These days, it should at least be considered lucky to have a chimney sweep visit your home annually for a chimney inspection. Keeping your home safe from dangerous house fires won’t exactly be the result of superstition, but it could be considered lucky.

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