When thinking of a chimney sweep, we instantly picture Mary Poppins’ right hand man, Bert. But before Bert and his well known cap, the chimney sweeps wore traditional black, a classic top hat, and maybe even tails. 

Why dress up to clean up? There are many legends behind the reason chimney sweeps wear top hats. Although not as common anymore, the image persists.

History of the chimney

Back when cities started modernizing and urbanization was an ever-crawling phenomenon, the development of two-story homes changed the way we stayed warm forever. Specifically, the chimney was invented so that people could enjoy warm fires with inhaling all that smoke; the smoke to escape from the top of the building.

However, smoke turned out to be just one of a few concerns. People soon realized that the build-up of soot and creosote was causing dangerous chimney fires. The Great Fire of London in 1666 spurred some changes to chimney construction and keep-up. People made chimneys smaller, and the noble sweep helped maintain these chimneys.

But how were they to fit up these tight spaces in order to clear out the soot? Soon the practice of using children for the job was commonplace.

This is where our legends begin.

#1. Hand-me-downs

This story says that beginning in the 17th century, funeral directors would take pity on these poor children being forced to crawl up chimneys. To help raise both their status and their morale, they gave them the extra top hats that would have otherwise been disposed of.

 #2. A gift from royalty

During the 1700s, King George was riding along on his horse when he came upon a barking dog. The horse was startled and would have kicked about dangerously if it wasn’t for a chimney sweep who grabbed the reins. Thankful for the help, the King claimed that sweeps would be considered lucky from then on, granting him the special privilege of wearing the symbol of the gentry: a top hat.

True or False?

Maybe one or both of these legends are true, maybe not. What we do know is that the hats were not only practical, helping brush soot off the walls of the chimneys, but they were also a source of pride and respect for the hard-working sweeps.

Today, sweeps are as hardworking as ever—and needed just as urgently! Remember to get your yearly chimney inspection with the help of Brick + Ember Outfitters in Indianapolis.