The Chimney Sweep
If my grandad walked round a modern housing estate he might well express the opinion that "he didn't want one of them old houses, they ent got no chimneys". In his day every house had a chimney or two over a coal or wood-burning fire which produced heat, cooking and copper-hole heating for the Monday 'wash day'. They also produced black, greasy soot which clung to the sides of the brick lined chimneys, and at regular intervals it was necessary to 'send for the sweep' to remove it. In the 1920's and 1930's 'sending for the sweep' meant sending for Ted Houchen.
On Swaffham Road, almost opposite the entrance to Wayland Avenue stand six now modernised terrace houses, and a faded painted board "E. HOUCHEN. CHIMNEY SWEEP" over his front door used to proclaim the fact that Ted lived in the one nearest to the little wood and the stream. The site on which now stand three modern elegant residential properties was his 'medder' with its heaps of soot, countless chicken huts, piles of scrap iron, sundry wood heaps and 'shuds' for his pony and dicky dealer cart, with rows of dried rabbit skins which he had bought for a penny apiece festooned along the outside walls.
These he collected until he had enough to send them to the 'rabbit skin factory' at Brandon where they were used to make felt and other products. Ted was an early riser. He had to be for chimney sweeping had to be completed in time to enable the lady of the house to relight the fire, boil the kettle and cook breakfast before husband and son went to work. Ted was not a great talker and his conversation was often restricted to a loud and cheerful "What-O" but he had a winning way with words when he wished. He was not very fond of gardening. He was not very fond of parting with his money, but he did like vegetables and he had brought to a fine art the technique of obtaining these, using flattery as a currency.
I have heard him say to my father "They're some rare fine cabbages you got there Fred". "Yes", Fred would say, "they aren't too bad are they, would you like a couple?" and in the twinkling of a shutknife two 'fine' cabbages would be rolling about in the back of Ted's dicky cart, while on his way to another acquaintance who would undoubtedly have a patch of "never see parsnips like them" or "master crop of onions".
If Ted was not very talkative sometimes his wife more than made up for him. A small lady, she exhibited the same qualities of unswerving loyalty to her master as a Jack Russell terrier, and she happily trolled through life at the heels of 'har Ted'. I remember, as a small boy coming home from school one Friday afternoon and being told by my mother to go and ask Mr. Houchen if he would sweep her chimney in the morning. A short ride on my little bike and a timid knock on the back door brought me face to face with Mrs. Houchen, feet at ten to two, hands on hips, unsmiling countenance. "Yes'.'" she said.
"Please Mrs. Houchen" I said "My mother wants to know if Mr. Houchen can come and sweep her chimney in the morning."
The answer came quickly. "No that he can't" she said "My Ted have had a wash and put his clean shat on, and he ent a going lo sweep no more chimneys till Monday". So Monday it had to be.
It was many years before I stood on that same doorstep again. I was then a member of Watton Round Table, and I called in connection with a Christmas Party for the senior citizens which we were arranging in conjunction with Rotary. Again I knocked. Again the door swung open, and the welcome was the same. "Yes?" she said.
"Hullo Mrs. Houchen." 1 started. "I belong to the Round Table, and I've come lo invite you to a dinner next Thursday week".
"Oh," she says, "Well now, what time will this here thing be?"
"1 should think we can send a car to pick you up about quarter past seven, ready for dinner about a quarter to eight."
"Oh" she say again. "No. I shall have to say no to that. That's really good of you young people to consarn your selves with us old un's. but I shan't be able to come to that. cors I can’t eat my dinner after tea".
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