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John Edward Aston, practical chimney sweep

Oxford, — February 2013

One of the things we inherited with our house was a folder of photos and documents of an owner from the 1950s, in one of which the house carries a sign "J. E. ASTON PRACTICAL CHIMNEY SWEEP".


outside the house, with colleagues (the front aspect hasn't changed in fifty years)

a page from the passbook


with his carcolleagues

cycling with his grandson

The other documents are a passbook with Halifax Building Society, in the name of John Edward Aston, documenting the paying off of a mortgage of £400 in lunar monthly subscriptions of £2 15s 1d, starting on 25th Oct 1946, and a bill dated 3rd November 1961 from solicitors Lungley, Tapping & Roby for £1 6s, for "professional charges" in connection with the discharge of the mortgage. (So this looks like a fifteen year mortgage at a fixed 3.35% interest. It's not clear what the loan-to-value ratio was.)

The owners before us inherited these documents from the owners before them and couldn't remember what they were told about their provenance, but it seems likely that they were found during renovations.

Chimneysweeping is still an occupation. But with East Oxford house prices having gone up something like 28-fold since 1946 (adjusting for inflation - some 1000-fold nominally, though there should probably be a hedonic adjustment for the improvements) the house is no longer remotely affordable on a tradesperson's salary.

Note: I've passed the documents on to Chris, Mr Aston's grandson, who sent the following historical note:

Hard to believe but when first built and bought by my grand parents the house cost.......wait for it, £400.

At the bottom of the garden where the sheds were there was a gate which lead onto the allotments which he had 2 of side by side and measuring 1 acre, he supplied all his own veg throughout the year and in the 60's and 70's we would receive a large wicker basket sent by train and full of fresh veg. My grans 2 sisters lived at 10 magdalen Rd a 5 minute walk away, they were Freda Ward and Dora Eeles, Freda was married to Ron Ward who during the war was in the RAF.

My grandad Jack was in the RAF Regiment and was responsible for laying down coconut runways (temporary) for the Spitfires to land on just behind the front line where they would be refuelled and rearmed.Freda and Dora also worked on the spitfires at Cowley where they built and repaired damaged fuel tanks.

I could go on forever but for accuracy's sake the picture on the blog in front of the car is wrongly marked, gramp didn't drive, he cycled everywhere on a butchers bike (small front wheel) balancing his sweeping rods on his shoulder.


  1. Did you look up if there was a chimney sweepers co-operative or such like, for the rightful owner?

    Comment by DL — March 2013
  2. What wonderful photos! You'll have to get a similar one of Helen when she can sit up in a basket on the front of your bike.
    The local library would probably appreciate having copies or originals of the letters and photos.

    Comment by Vera Yee — March 2013
  3. I wonder if there would be an opening for me as an "impractical chimney sweep".

    Comment by Sean Carmody — March 2013
  4. Jack Aston was my maternal grandfather living at 140 Howard Street Oxford. The small boy in the bikes basket is my brother Simon. The provinance of the documents is correct,the house was sold a short time after my gramps death in the mid eighties when my gran (Gladys) moved to the northeast to live with my parents.

    Comment by Chris Ray — May 2013
  5. In the top photo the person on the left is Norman Stanley Aston, my father and Jack Aston's younger brother. The person in the middle is Jack Aston, my uncle and the person on the right is Edward Aston, Jack and Norman's father, my grandfather and Chris' great grandfather. The second photo is Norman, Edward and Jack, the van belonged to my dad, the only one who could drive! If you went the 6 Windmill Road in Headington before 1968, my granddad's old house before he died, you would have seen the enamel sign, "Aston and Sons, Chimney Sweeps" referring to all of them. Chimney sweeping was a family affair!
    I remember the house in Howard Street in the 1950s and the allotments behind. I also remember my cousin June and her husband Geoff before they moved up north.
    I love to here from Chis Ray if you have his email.

    Comment by Paul Aston — September 2015

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