In 1964, the film “Mary Poppins” was released starring Julie Andrews in the title role and Dick Van Dyke as the loveable chimney sweep “Bert”.
The rooftop scenes with the pair singing “Chim Chim Cheree” certainly painted a rosier picture than what real “sweeps” had to endure until the late 1800s.
Chimneys were often too small for adults so children as young as six, usually orphans or those sold by parents, were the labor source for this sooty dangerous task. Some children were made apprentices under a “master sweep”. His obligations, aside from teaching the “trade”, were to provide a weekly bath, presumably on Saturday night, to allow the young workers to attend Sunday services. They were also not supposed to send a kid into a chimney that was on fire. As dreary as their existence was, the chimney sweep and the boy and girl “climbers” can be considered early workers in the HVAC industry before the AC part was invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier. Fireplace chimneys work by creating a draught of rising hot air that removes smoke and gases from the building and disperses them into the atmosphere. Many houses still have them and aside from added warmth, they provide that holiday feeling with the “yule log” gently burning as the weather outside turns frightful. I don’t think a remake of Mary Poppins based in modern days would work. An HVAC technician and a suburban babysitter singing a song titled “Duct Duct Duree” is simply not as appealing as the magic that “Bert” and “Mary” brought to the screen. A qualified HVAC technician may, however, be able to refer you to a chimney cleaning service that thankfully, will not involve a soot-covered kid shimmying up into your chimney.