Market Lavington Museum

Foul chimneys and chimney fires

Back in the 19th century, homes were heated by open fires with chimneys. These needed sweeping to remove soot, which could cause a chimney fire. Sometimes the chimney became smelly due to a build up of creosote.

The Women’s Institute file containing local history includes a paragraph entitled Foul Chimneys. It is credited to B Hayward and dated 1832. We imagine this was probably Ben Hayward who lived at Kestrels on Oak Lane in Easterton. He kept a journal with information on farming, birds and all sorts of other topics though, if he was born in 1824, we doubt that he was writing about chimneys in 1832.

Ben’s home, Kestrels, is the red brick building on the left in this 1990s photo.

Anyway, the WI item gives B Hayward’s recommended method of dealing with a chimney fire. He assumes people would have flower of sulphur (yellow sulphur powder) available, as a pound of this would be needed for a fire in a tall chimney with flames rising three or four yards above the chimney. This had to be thrown, a little at a time, onto the burning coals or logs in the fireplace. It would put the fire out in a few minutes and the sulphurous vapour would ‘pervade the crevices and finish the combustion completely’. During the procedure, a well cloth had to be held in front of the fire place.