What I remember was the excitement and the panic when the chimney caught fire. The first indication would be a dull roaring sound, as of course the fire was well out of sight within the chimney itself. Or a neighbour came breathlessly knocking at the door to relate the "good" news. Then we all rushed out to see the awesome sight of flames intermittantly gushing from the chimney, and a positive fusillade of lively looking bright sparks arcing out into the sky. A pretty sight after dark!
But hey, don't dawdle ---- bags of salt had to be produced and handfuls thrown as high up on the fireback as possible. In the meantime heavy sacks were thoroughly damped and the fireplace blocked off with them.
Red hot soot would be falling into the firebox, to be confined behind the sacks, which were there to cut off the draught. Hopefully this would do the trick and the roaring would lessen and the fire finally die down.
Most times the shame of having to call out the firebrigade to a chimney fire was avoided. The roof was well checked and of course the previous "exercise" generated a lot of extra cleaning, in the clearing up process. It was a nuisance, but soon rectified, and there was the bonanza of extra soot for the garden!
But how differently it could have turned out. Slate rooftiles in a Midland city did not ignite, but in the Oxfordshire village of my paternal grandfather ----- the fountain of sparks could have set the thatched roof on fire, or the heat of the fire itself overheated aged wooden beams and their home would have been lost.
Whatever! It was as well to have the sweep booked on a regular basis to avoid the events I've narrated.
When I lived in the isolation of the Sounds we swept our own chimney. No, we didn't have any tools for the job! Well, a ladder was needed, of course. We chose a nice brushy bit of manuka with a slender pliable trunk. Fastened this to a long stout wire (number 8 is the NZ farmer's chief standby!) --- and it made a good job of removing residual soot.
My modern home is heated by an efficient closed woodburner, so I need to have the chimney swept, even to this day. But what a difference! The sweep unpacks the gear from his van, protects and masks the area around the woodburner and then uses his vacuum apparatus. It is both efficient and clean.
It is no longer a colourful episode, but I won't complain, as there is no mess to clean up!