Chimney sweeps were back in fashion in the 1970s


But they came back into fashion during the power crisis in the early 1970s when coal miners went on strike.

Most of the country’s electricity was produced from coal and when the miners walked out, the Government introduced emergency measures, including a three-day week for many workers and cuts in electricity to homes, factories and offices.

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Many families returned to lighting coal fires to keep themselves warm, but hit an obstacle – getting soot and other debris cleared from their chimneys.

The Oxford Mail discovered that two chimney sweeps listed in Yellow Pages had given up, and a third who worked for ‘regular customers only’, explained why.

He said: “We’re just letting our business die – there is nothing in the centre of Oxford and most of our work is about 15 miles out these days. With petrol costs and so on, it just isn’t economical at the prices we charge per chimney.

“My TV went wrong and the technician who came charged £2.50 to come and 50p for labour, apart from the cost of the new part. Unless we can make these sorts of charges for chimney sweeping, it isn’t worth our while.”

The typical cost of sweeping a chimney at that time was about £1. Without a clean chimney, there was a danger of the house catching fire.

The Mail discovered that one former sweep had gone back into business working two days a week – his normal job at the car factory had been reduced to three days by the emergency measures.

Oxford Mail:

He had been offered up to four times his normal fee to sweep a chimney.

Families who hadn’t managed to get their chimney swept before starting to burn coal to save electricity were warned about the dangers.

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The Home Office advised a once a year sweep, while some councils advised tenants to have it done every six months.

Failure to do so could result in eviction, they warned. The county’s Chief Fire Officer recommended having chimneys swept regularly.

There was not only a warning of chimneys catching fire, but of burning soot falling and igniting carpets, rugs and chairs, or sparks from a crack in the chimney spreading to attics and roof timbers.

As we have recalled, one of the best known chimney sweeping businesses in Oxfordshire was run by the Soden family, with six generations involved from 1803 to 2019.

They included Len and Dick Soden, followed by Mike.

The sixth generation was completed by Gary, Mike’s son, who continued until 2019 when a back injury forced him to give up.

One member of the family, Richard, was also a horse slaughterer.

During the First World War, unsuccessful efforts were made for him to be excused military service and remain at home.

So many fellow workers had been called up, he was the only employee left to sweep chimneys, and he was the only licensed horse slaughterer in the city.

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