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Chimney Sweeps in Cornwall providing Vac Sweep and CCTV inspection services for over 40 years
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A not so short history of Steve Bullen the founder of

 

“Bullens Chimney Sweeping Service”


Plus other thoughts that come to my mind as I type

At around 1960 my Father supported by my Mother started the firm known today as “Bullens Chimney Sweeping Service” in those days it was known as “Bullens Vac Sweep” He was a man accustomed to hard work, and he had to be, as there were ten children depending on him for shelter and sustenance. Those ten children never went to bed hungry or cold, there was much love in the home and each of their children have made a success in their chosen field of work. Father had taught his children well, they all know the value of hard work. My Mother assisted him in the “Office”; She even went with him when he had an especially big day of work. They would both come home grimy and then there would be a very hectic evening for all. She also knew the meaning of hard work as you can imagine. And at 84yrs she is still quite active and as interested in life as ever.

 

In 1960 the cost of having your chimney swept by my Father “Steve” was a mere 2/6d in old money, that’s just 12.5p in today’s money. He would often start at seven in the morning during the Winter/Spring months, and would not return home until dark, when Mum was preparing to wash all his sheets ready for the next day. No tumble dryer back then. On wet days all was dried in front of our coal fire. Father would bathe in a bathtub, which was filled with steaming water from an old Copper. No electric power shower back then. Needless to say no one wanted to get in the bath after father! There followed his evening meal, after which he was able to relax for a short while before bedtime.

 

Father was a sort of a “Terrier” of a man, not large about 5ft 6ins and slightly built. But one look at the size of his hands “they were Big” told you that in his youth, he would have been a man used to hard labour. As a sweep this ability served him well, he would never allow himself to be beaten by a difficult chimney; he would always get it swept no matter how long it took. You might say his motto was “Never Give In”. There are not many chimneys as difficult as that today, and I can’t remember the last time I had to explain that “Though Dad could, I can’t”, but it was an embarrassing fact for a few years.

 

He had an interesting life, he was sent to Canada in 1928 as a 16 yr old boy and in his day he had been a ranch-hand, lumberjack, and he even served for three years as a member of the Mounted Border Patrol in Canada, However the tales we as young children liked to hear, were of his experiences as a hobo, riding on the Canadian pacific Railway as non fare paying “passenger”. He had even ridden in the Calgary Stampede, very exiting stuff. It was on his return to Cornwall at the age of 25 that he met my Mum, then she was a young 18 year old girl with dark hair and pretty with it; they were married on March 14th 1938. He was working on a farm near Gorran called Tregarton at the time and he was given the Saturday morning off to get married, He and Mum went back to the farm at midday he back to work, while Mum spent the afternoon scrubbing the slate floors of the cottage that came with the job. The cottage is still there as you go down the drive to the farm. I have cleaned the chimneys there and it is very nostalgic to be some were that marked the start of someone’s married life. I get a sort of tingling feeling whenever I am there.

 

1939 saw the start of a very dark period in the history of the world. Dad saw what was coming and had enlisted early, and went over to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, but was soon back in Cornwall, albeit minus 1/3rd of his stomach. After he had recovered he spent the rest of the war in “Dads Army”. I was born in 1943 the third child and second son. Dad worked at many things to keep his growing family, including Cycle repairs, Baker, Bus Conductor, and Shoveling Coal on the Railway. But it was as a Chimney Sweep that he is remembered.

 

When Father started sweeping he had and a very old Ford van, a silvery Nilfisk vacuum the best you could get in those days. He bought his rods, brushes, and other equipment as a package from an advert in a newspaper, as I remember. So far so good, But how to get customers? Easy! He said I’d just go from door to door and offer my services; he has some humorous times back then, as “Vac Sweeping” was still new in Cornwall at that time. When he offered one elderly lady who lived in Looe to sweep her chimney using a vacuum, she replied, “but I don’t have a vacuum” Dad was momentarily speechless, but soon regained his composure, he got the job, and his 2/6d fee, it was a success. She became a regular customer, and he swept her chimney using rods and brushes with vacuum assistance for many, many years.

 

One of my younger brothers is still remembered by Dads old customers, He had bright ginger hair as a young boy, and used to accompany dad during the school holidays, They often confuse me with him, I don’t mind, I’m a good fifteen years his elder, anyway one day dad was sweeping a chimney and the lad was sent to “go and see the brush”. “No not out yet” he would say when dad shouted “is it there?” When dad had used up all his rods, he turns around and saw the brush swinging to and fro by the French window! He was not amused. He came out and gave the lad a cuff around the ear; the lad had been looking at the wrong chimney pot! That customer enjoyed relating this tale for many years. He always started by saying “do you remember when you came with your dad?” and I still have to chuckle after all these years. Happy memories. Father did well at chimney sweeping; he never made a fortune, with 10 hungry mouths to feed that was never going to happen. But he left his mark so to speak, and he left me a very good business, and for that I am very, very grateful. Sadly he died on June 21st 1997.

 

In 1973 my Wife and I returned to Cornwall as all Cornish men seem to do, I needed work, and dad said why not start up the chimney sweeping again it’s a shame to let it go to waste, He had been “retired” due to ill health for a little while. I did start it up, and Mum took the bookings for me, until we had a phone installed in our home, then my wife Hazel took up the task, and still oversees the office to this day. I bought an old G.P.O. Morris Minor van, resurrected Dads rods, brushes, shields, etc put an advert in The Cornish Guardian Newspaper, and with lots of advice from Dad, set out on my career as a chimney sweep, Dad was a constant source of essential information, when ever I had a difficult chimney, I would just phone dad and he would know from memory the foible of every chimney, without his help I could not have managed. As the years went by of course, I acquired my own skill and knowledge of each chimney, then one day I suddenly realized that I could do what dad had said he been able to do, that is “to see with the minds eye” where the brush was and which way to turn it, in the dark hidden recess’s of the chimney flue, at last I had cracked it, I was a sweep just like my Father, an achievement I am very proud of.

 

To day my son John joins me. He has been trained for some years now and is able to sweep just like his Dad and Granddad. So we are now into the third generation of chimney sweeps. The work of a chimney sweep has changed a lot over the years. Today we are required to issue certificates on sweeping a chimney, and must work to British Standards 6461 Pt1/BS7566, all of which means that your chimney is swept methodically. This gives our customers peace of mind, on a cold windy night when the flames lick up the chimney a little bit too keenly. Then there is the fitting of suitable cowls and bird guards, replacing chimney pots etc.

 

In 1982 I received a letter inviting me to go to Hobart House in London. The headquarters of the then “British Coal Board” The propose was to see if it there was enough interest in the Thrirty or so sweeps present to found an organization to further the safety aspects of and improve chimney sweeping. This was the idea of a notable chimney sweep in Taunton, Mr David Mitchell. He had been sorely troubled by the unnecessary deaths of people as a direct result of CO poisoning from blocked flues. The result of his endeavour with the help of the Coal Board was the founding of The National Association of Chimney Sweeps or NACS for short. I was proud to have been in at the start of the NACS organization. I became one of its first members in 1982 and I served for some time as the Regional Officer for the Southwest of England until 2005, but as I could no longer give it my full support I am no longer a member. The NACS association had achieved a tremendous amount in its first twenty years, working hard to have chimneys swept to a high standard. All members must issue a certificate on completion of sweeping a chimney, indicating it was swept to the standard required. All members are encouraged to be registered with Hetas for solid fuel appliances, Oftec for oil fired appliances, and Corgi for gas appliances. NACS went from strength to strength originally, and the British Public owes a dept of gratitude for the farsighted work of Mr David Mitchell now sadly deceased. His wife Sandra remains the Honorary President and continues to inspire the membership with the same enthusiasm and zeal as her husband.

Of course over the years Bullens Chimney Cleaning Service has acquired a considerable knowledge of the workings of chimneys, and there is a guide to chimney problems and possible solutions on this web site. Why not take a look you will find some helpful information there.

 

When sweeping a chimney we often detect that there is a fault with the flue, but until recently we have not been able to prove to the customer exactly what was wrong. However it is now possible to show the fault to the customer using CCTV. This new technology is the simplest way of locating the exact place in the flue where the fault/problem occurs. By passing a remote controlled video camera up the flue we are able to record on VHS videotape the entire inner surface of the flue, thus enabling you to view the inner surface of your chimney at your convenience, being able to show your chosen repairman exactly were the problem is. Also we are able to take high quality still photos of any given area. So that faults may easily be remedied, the height from the hearth is recorded so as to guide your repair worker in locating the fault. As you can appreciate this Video Chimney Inspection System is quite simply invaluable, when it comes to identifying and locating faults in chimney flues. It has quite literally been a revelation to many of our customers to see the condition of their chimney flue.

We to date have a database of over 8,500 customer addresses including valuable information on the chimney flues, when they were last swept, condition, etc, and even if you have just moved into your property there is a good chance that we might have a record of sweeping the chimney for a previous occupier. This same computer database enables us to give our customers a regular reminder when their chimney needs to be swept again; this has proven of great value to those who wish to keep their chimney in safe working condition. The office is open for bookings during normal office hours, but often we are available outside of these hours, in any case we have a 24hr telephone answering service that really does work, when we say we will call you back we really do mean it, and that’s a promise.

 

We value our customers highly, and after over 40 years of sweeping chimneys, we know what our customers want and are eager to provide a much-needed service. Call us in confidence, we will not let you down. My father wouldn’t, I won’t, and my son won’t. That’s another promise.

 

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