Title   Schoorsteenvegen (Search for the image)
Translated title Chimney Sweeps
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of chminey sweep (`schoorsteenveger’)

Code of occupational group 55240
Description A young man and small boy walk together in a country setting, shouting out their services. The boy has a tall pole over his right shoulder, and a bundle of twigs under his left arm. On his left shoulder, the young man rests his cleaning pole; he steadies it with his left hand. He holds
his twigs under his right arm. Both wear broad-brinuned hats.

Fireplace chimneys became clogged with soot after repeated use, and would not draw properly. When smoke did not move up the chimney quickly, fires would not burn brightly or rapidly. Householders would also become irritated with smoke in their homes. The solution was to hire chimney sweeps who used brushes, twigs, and poles to clean out the accumulated soot and grease lining the chimney. From time to time birds' nests and the carcasses of dead birds also blocked chimneys, especially if the building was located near an area where migratory birds mated and raised their fledglings.

Small, thin boys were especially useful in this cleaning task because they could slip down the chimney from the roof and climb up into the chimney from the hearth floor. Occasionally a chimney sweep would burn himself or his clothes in a hot chimney; often they would scrape their skin and get ashes and soot rubbed into the open sore. Hats offered only minimal protection to their hair which was frequently filthy with chimney debris. Typically their clothes, faces, and hands were blackened by their labors, and they presented a "scary" figure. Adults were not above disciplining naughty children with the threat that the chimney sweep would stuff them into his sack for ashes to take them away; the sweep thus became a "kinder spoek" in popular folklore.

The chimney sweep was featured in an etching designed by Hendrick Bary and executed by Cornelis Visseher, (Hollstein 19). In the accompanying poem, the sweep laments that "people make fun of me as a children's spook". Chimney sweeps were depicted in the woodcuts for the earliest "Cries of Paris"; Pierre Brebiette's (ca. 1640-41) "Les Cris de Paris", folio 10; Abraham Bosse's c.1640-50 "cries;" and the "cries" published in Rome, 1646, based on the work of Annibale Carracci. *

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

  • See Karen F. Beall's Kaufraufe und Strassenhandler. Cries and Itinerant Trades, 1975.

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