04 April 2013

smoke and drawing

excited to discover one fireplace. slightly bewildered to discover another! i mean, one lovely big one is enough. how many fireplaces does one need? but hidden to the right of the large one is another smaller fireplace. possibly an old bread oven with a granite lintel.

so today i unbricked it and dug it out. it took the whole day but was a lot easier than the other as there was more earth and less heavy granite stones. and yes, it's another fireplace alright. it has it's own chimney that looks as if it rises straight before curving to meet the main one. the same black sooty soil swirled out into the room, followed by sticks and stones and feathers and bones. i found all sorts of interesting pieces of paper and cloth and string that must have been woven into nests dating back over decades. i've kept all the little things which i'll photograph and write about in another post. one nest was made with tatters of newspaper from 1928!

and as i was amidst digging and filling yet more sacks with sooty soil i stood up to straighten my back. i looked out of the window just in time to see a chimney sweep getting out of his van across the road. i ran out to him and told him excitedly that i'd just discovered two chimneys, thinking that this might be the sort of thing that would excite him too. he was in a bit of a hurry, said he had a chimney to sweep but would pop back after he was done. 

a little while later he returned with a torch, a smoke bomb, a bag of sketchbooks, a long tin of coloured pencils and a box of top quality artists' materials - charcoal, conte crayons, pastels and more. he said he didn't have much time but he'd test my chimney if i drew something in his sketchbook. he told me that's what he does with all his customers - asks them to draw or write something while he sweeps their chimney! and there were about 8 artists' sketchbooks full of drawings, collages, poems and messages. he said he was going to do something with them but he didn't know what yet. unfortunately there was no time to look and barely any time to draw as lighting a smoke bomb takes a lot less time than sweeping a chimney. so i started to sketch my newly found fireplace and bread oven as the smoke started to plume upwards but then out into the room. it was getting harder and harder to see what i was drawing and the chimney sweep was outside looking at the sky. he told me that he couldn't see any smoke emerge and that it was likely that the chimney was blocked on top. the smoke billowed out into the room and my subject became vague and misty, all definition lost in a haze.

i was disappointed that the smoke hadn't made it out but told the man that i was still on the lookout for hidden shoes. when i was at school i went to stay with my art teacher and she showed me the tiny worn leather shoes that she'd found in the chimney breast of her house. they were beautiful and very old. it was common for people to conceal them in walls and rafters but particularly in chimney breasts to ward off evil spirits, witches' curses and disease, or more positively, to encourage fertility. i asked the man if he'd ever found any. he hadn't but he had found a tiny gold ring hidden away in a chimney when he was asked to clear a bird's nest. and he was told he could keep it.


a little difficult to observe my subject!


  1. Love this post! Always enjoy your updates.

  2. We have the same sweep - I drew the view from my studio last time he swept the AGA chimney. I suggested that he self publish a book of all the drawings, comments etc so that he could take the book with him on his visits to show his clients who had contributed, and collect new entries. He said that some people had enjoyed doing the drawings so much it had inspired them to start art classes. It's a brilliant project. He used to be in the Navy, and it's about time I contacted him to sweep the chimneys again!