Taking inspiration from Dick Van Dyke’s character Bert in Mary Poppins, Ipswich woman Jenny Wren sets up as chimney sweep
Cap on, braces up and brushes at the ready, Suffolk’s first female chimney sweep is “as lucky, as lucky can be” (to quote Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins).
Born on Bonfire Night and descending from coal merchants – being a sweep seemed like a natural career choice for Jenny Calver.
In January 2013, Jenny, who lives in Ipswich, had the opportunity to take redundancy from her previous work as a care manager of a respite home for people with learning disabilities.
With help from enterprise agency Nwes, She decided to set up her own business offering help with house work and gardening to local people and Jenny Wren’s Home and Garden Maintenance service was launched.
As the winter months set in she played with the idea of expanding her business to include chimney sweeping to fill in the later part of the year when there is less gardening work available.
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“To me the whole concept of chimney sweeping has links to my past – my grandparents were coal merchants in Suffolk,” Jenny said.
“I also fondly remember being a little girl when Dad swept our home chimneys saying ‘Jen, go outside and shout when you can see the brush out the top and make a wish’.”
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Chimney sweeps were immortalised in 1964 when Dick Van Dyke played cheeky sweep Bert in Mary Poppins and delivered his lines in a infamously dodgy cockney accent.
“People like to have a female chimney sweep – they think I’m going to be cleaner, but also there’s a lot more interest, they like to watch me working.
“I think they like the novelty of it, and I usually go wearing a cap and dungarees and look the part.
“There’s definitely a knack to it – it builds up the forearms.”
Carrying the image of fire and hearth, the chimney sweep has been a symbol of luck for over 100 years.
Jenny upholds the tradition of attending local weddings and special events as a Lucky Sweep.
Traditionally, the groom is supposed to shake the hand of the sweep, and the bride gets a kiss – Jenny has not been invited to a wedding yet, but thinks she would be “good for a gay ceremony.”
Jenny lives with her 20-year-old son Alfie in Britannia Road, Ipswich.
“He just accepts that I do strange things,” she said.
“He’s never surprised really. He just thinks I’m a bit mad.”
Jenny has always had an open fire in her home and likes to crisp her morning toast over the flames.
With the installation of wood-burners becoming ever more popular, Jenny said choosing a natural way of heating is something that would take off in Suffolk.
“People like the romantic side of having an open fire as well”, she said.
Jenny has her sights set firmly on the future and is confident her business can become a sweeping success.