• harveyvickie

The Chimney Sweep

Victorian life was bad enough for young children but for those entrusted to orphanages or workhouses there was a very slim chance of survival, this story tells of a young boy in those days.

I was six years old, going on seven When Jesus called the old man to heaven. Least, that’s what I think – he may have gone down He’d feel at home wearing the Devils crown.

Me mam had run off six years before Last thing we heard was her slamming the door, Left six hungry kids – including meself No food in the parlour, no bread on the shelf.

The old man tried to keep us together Went lighting gas lamps, out in all weather, That winter was bad and he caught the flu His last words to me were ‘You know what to do’.

We didn’t cope long, we just couldn’t survive So we went to the workhouse to stay alive, But the beadle was bad, an evil man Took advantage of my big sister Fran.

I discovered Fran sat softly weeping Said I’d slit his throat while he was sleeping, The beagle decided that I had to go Knew I’d keep my promise if I should grow.

So, now I’m leaving to earn my keep The workhouse sold me to a chimney sweep, A wretched geezer known all over town For his grumpiness and his constant frown.

The fat old man – as I’ll call him herein Wore most of his last meal on unshaven chin, His crumpled top hat and stained waistcoat Showed up the red neckerchief around his throat.

His corduroy trousers were tied at the knees With pieces of old string, if you please, Above well-worn boots, although looking strong Causing white sparks as he shuffled along.

His face was lined with the grime of years And long silvery hairs grew from his ears, His nose was quite bent and sat to one side The smile on his thin lips had long since died.

At seven years old and as thin as a rake I was willing to get anything I could take, But the thought of those chimneys so dark and dank Filled me with dread and my heart it sank.

Well, it was either that or become a thief And no matter what – I was not a tealeaf, So the fat old man complete with his frown Slapped me hard as he dragged me through town.

For an overweight man he walked at a pace It seemed as though he was in a race, I toted his rods and black sooty brushes As through crowded streets he grunts and rushes.

The noise was terrific, men were shouting Young boys were fighting, women were touting, Their wares from baskets as others greet Among infestation upon the street.

Thin donkeys tugging at overladen carts The pieman selling his pastries and tarts, The clatter of hooves on hard cobbled floors Half naked women at open front doors.

That place was quite bad, but then he turned right Into a dark street where we lost daylight, The buildings so close, as if to be pally A sign up above read ‘Blind mans Alley’.

The darkened alley had never seen sun The stench emitting was second to none, Then the fat old man stopped dead on his feet As the contents of a chamberpot met the street.

His filthy black fist he shook in the air But the hag that had thrown it hadn’t a care, And so we continued through that dingy hue Till suddenly daylight, the sun shining through.

The town was now gone, the noisiness died As we walked at a pace through the countryside, Two lions on post and there- in between A house of grandeur such as I’d never seen.

A cold looking house but two storeys high With ugly chimneys which reached to the sky, A panelled front door, its paint freely peeling Was opened by a woman, cold and unfeeling.

We were ushered into a stately room Quite light and airy, yet so full of gloom, The unpolished table had seen better days With dust swirling madly through the sun's rays.

The fat old man wrenched the rods from my shoulder As he pushed them together my blood ran colder, He shoved me toward the black chimney throat Into that cavity – dark and remote.

With brush in hand, I started to climb Up through the caked soot wet with slime, My knees were bleeding as I tried to grip Skinned my knuckles as I tried not to slip.

When I got higher the space became tight But thankfully above me, I saw daylight, I gave one last push, my body was crammed I started to panic as I became jammed!

I could hear muffled voices, way down below My mind was drifting from lack of air flow, My breathing was harder, I tried to move But my disposition didn’t much improve.

My head was spinning as loose soot fell down So much so, that I feared I would drown, Then a warmth from below as if to berate A fire had been lit, below in the grate!

The smoke stole the last breath that I had And there in the gloom, I could see my old dad, Coming toward me – offering his hand As he took me from hell to the promised land.

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