Author – Marge Padgitt
Most people know that chimney sweeps bring good luck, wealth, and happiness, but don’t know how the tradition started.
The most popular tale is that in the year 1066, King William was walking along a London street with his entourage when a carriage, out of control, headed straight for him. A chimney sweep happened to be nearby and pushed the king out of the way, saving his life. King William was so grateful for the act that he invited the chimney sweep to his daughter’s wedding, declared chimney sweeps to be lucky and that they would be the only service profession allowed to wear top hats, which were previously only worn by royalty and the gentry.
I suspect that this tale, however, got mixed up with a later version involving King George since top hats weren’t popular until the 1700’s Another legend occurred with King George in the 1700’s. As the king was riding his horse in a procession a growling dog appeared, startling his horse and causing the king to lose control of the horse’s halter.
A chimney sweep came to his aid, grabbed the halter, calmed the animal, and saved the king for falling. Although the sweep disappeared into the crowd, King George II decided to reward him by declaring that all chimney sweeps are lucky. It is most likely that the link to top hats occurred here.
It is also a common belief that chimney sweeps took the old worn out tails and top hats that funeral directors threw out, thereby giving a more respectable image to their profession.
Yet another legend says that a chimney sweep slipped and fell from a roof while working, but was able to grab onto a gutter. A young woman saw the sweep and pulled him inside through a window to safety. Although the woman was engaged to someone else, she immediately fell in love with the chimney sweep and they were soon married. She “swept him off his feet,” so to say.
Regardless of how the tradition started, the notion that chimney sweeps bring good luck is still popular today, especially in Europe and the United Kingdom. To see a chimney sweep on your wedding day is especially lucky, so much so that many couples hire a chimney sweep to attend their wedding to shake the groom’s hand and give the bride a kiss.
In medieval times, when fireplaces were invented for heating and cooking, it was soon discovered that the fumes and soot were unhealthy and dangerous. So the chimney sweeping professional developed in to a full-fledged industry which people associated with clean air and safety.
Some postcards from the 19th and 20th centuries had signs of good luck printed on them which often include a chimney sweep, mushrooms, four-leaf clovers, and a pink pig. With all of these talismans together it brings even more luck. People used to send these lucky postcards to their friends and family, back in the days of snail mail.
European and some American and Canadian chimney sweeps wear a dress jacket or work jacket that has 13 buttons. This demonstrates that the unlucky number of 13 is reversed if a chimney sweep wears this number of buttons.
In some European countries chimney sweeps used to go from door to door on New Year’s Day to wish people good luck, and no doubt to remind them to have their chimney’s swept. It is good luck yet today if a chimney sweep rubs some soot on your forehead on New Year’s Day.
~ Marge Padgitt