Burgh Chimney Sweep Billy Baker

The photograph above is somewhat unique, and depicts William Baker, of Burgh, now 90 years of age, who swept chimneys for 80 years, and has never been seen by any living man in any other head-gear than a silk hat.

Born at Metheringham, near Sleaford, in September 1832, he was employed at the age of * by a chimney sweep at Sleaford who sent him up chimneys in the then approved style to sweep them with a handbrush.

None but very small boys could get up the chimneys so this was a real “blind alley” operation for a boy.

In 18? an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting the use of boys for this filthy work and insisting on the use of the newly invented screw-socketed long brush.

William’s employer had to meet the competition of an Irishman who bought a set of brushes and informed the authorities of others who continued to employ boys in defiance of the act, which was considered to be interference with the rights of the individual.

Eventually, says William, “the maister tonned ***** and sent the boys home.

His mother had meanwhile married a butcher at ***dington who “did more boozing than working” and had a wooden leg, having lost that member as the result of a drunken brawl.

William was sent, aged 8, to “tent” sheep, but this wasn’t to his liking, the sheep “got master on him”. His step-father ill-treated him and he ran away to Horncastle and joined himself as he says “meat for work” to a sweep there who seems to have ignored the new law re small boys.

His next two employers were a Mr Wain of Burgh, and Alfred Snowshall of Alford, but when William was 17 he had serious differences of opinion with the latter gentleman and again “ran away”

He was followed by his angry employer as far as Beverley, but went off into remoter parts of Yorkshire for some months.

Coming back to Lincolnshire he settled at Burgh and when his late Alford employer found him doing for himself what he used to do for him, he “came to fetch him back” and one night chased him half-way to Wainfleet, tearing the shirt off his back, but failing to make a capture.

He now seems to have been left alone and to have settled down at Burgh and swept most of the chimneys for miles around ever since.

He talks of two winters through which he slept in one corner of an open waggon shed of Mr John Holmes, and tells of running from Burgh to Huttoft before 3 o’clock in the morning.

He was kindly treated at many of the larger houses in the neighbourhood, slept in the saddle rooms at places like Sausthorpe Hall, Candleby Hall and Skendleby, and often had supper and two breakfasts.

An officer named Chambers was in charge of the Burgh police Station in these early days and kept a pony – William tells how he has often, when going sweeping in the early mornings, met Mr Chambers and his friends returning home from a con=vivial “night out”, not all as sober as they should be.

He married a widow named Skelton when he was 26, but she has been dead many years. He swept his last chimney in 1916,at the White Hart Burgh at the age of 84.

Many a top hat has he thrown to the boys for a football because Lord Willoughby has won the election.

He has been quite blind for several years, and doesn’t now get out, but manages with his old age pension and help from some of his old customers to maintain independence which he will not surrender to the poor law.

Source: Skegness Herald 10th January 1923

Note: The picture is, unfortunately, badly obscured due to the transferring of the old newspaper onto micro-film. There is, however, an excellent picture of Billy Baker included in the Burgh Chimney Sweep story (complete with Top Hat, of course).

I have substituted a * where the old newspaper is impossible to read.