I discovered many years ago that my 4g-grandfather, William Vizard (1792-1873), was a chimney sweep, a fact disclosed on his daughter's marriage certificate and his entries in the censuses. I tried not to think of him as some cruel Dickensian master, like Gamfield from Oliver Twist or Tom's master from The Water Babies. But on the other hand, I cringed even more to think of Dick van Dyke's portrayal of a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. Luckily it seems he was nothing like either of them.
The other day I was looking at Ancestry.com (as you do) and found a tree with my William Vizard in it. Attached to the person in that tree was a copy of the painting of "The Badminton Sweep".
Now I am always sceptical about "hints" that come from other peoples' trees, and always spend a lot of time trying to prove or disprove whether they are correct. In this case the picture was part of an article about a painting of the Badminton Sweep having come to light. The notes with it said that he was William Vizard from Chipping Sodbury, who regularly hunted with Duke of Beaufort at the Badminton Hunt, always carrying his sweep's brush. The painting was expected to be sold for £2000-£3000 (in 2012).
Now my ancestor, William, was the son of William (c1759-1843) who was a gardener. So it can't have been the elder William who was the hunting sweep. My William also had a son William, born 1827, (who is not my ancestor – I am descended from the second William's daughter Mary Ann) and that son was shown as a chimney sweep in the 1851 and 1861 censuses, so I had two possible contenders.
Firstly I did some Google searching and discovered that the gentleman in question was more commonly referred to as "The Hunting Sweep", and that there were several portraits of him. A print of one from a book was for sale on eBay for a ridiculous amount, but another was quite a reasonable price, so I've bought that and eagerly await its arrival.
But I still needed to prove which William was being referred to. My next step was to turn to the newspapers. There I found a death notice for the eldest William (that is, the gardener) in 1843 (I knew who this referred to as I had already obtained all the relevant death certificates) which read "DIED - On the 20th ult., at Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, William Vizard, sen., the venerable sire of "the Hunting Sweep," aged 84." (Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 3 Sep 1843, p2).
And there were lots of other articles about the Hunting Sweep, although in many cases they were copies of articles from other papers.
From those newspaper articles I discovered a very amusing character.
SPORT V REFORM; OR, THE HUNTING SWEEP. – At Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, resides a certain chimney-sweep, who, by industry, has accumulated some property. He happens, however, to be very find of the chase, and is often seen with the Duke of Beaufort's hounds in the neighbourhood, striding across the country in his sooty habiliments, to the great amusement of the gentlemen of the hunt, amongst whom, however, he never fails to maintain a conspicuous place. The sweep is a Reformer, but the Duke's brother, Lord E. Somerset, is a candidate for one division of the county, on opposite principles. The sweep was, consequently, rather puzzled as to the disposal of his vote, and hesitated between hunting and reform. The Hon. Mr. Moreton and his colleague, the two reform candidates, were first to put him to the test, and understanding that his political creed was favourable, solicited his vote with confidence. To their surprise, however, the sweep refused then, and on being pressed for his reason, said, "To tell you the truth, Gem'men, I can't vote for you, 'cause I hunts with the Duke."
(Morning Advertiser, Saturday 10 November 1832, p3)
Three years later and another election loomed. This time it was the Duke of Beaufort's son, the Marquis of Worcester, who was standing. Vizard is reported to have pushed his way to the front of the hustings, offered his hand to the Marquis and declared
"I am come, my Lord," said the sweep" either to propose or second you, if necessary, and, at all events, to give you my vote and interest." The Marquis expressed his obligations, and heartily shook the hand of his sable friend. "Ah," said the sweep, continuing his harrangue, "this is indeed an important crisis, and every well-wisher of his country ought to stand forward manfully to precent of Church and State from being brished away together. So displeased have I been with the sweeping attempts of late, that I have declined any longer to superintend the black work at Berkley Castle ... or to give my support to the Whigs, and as to the Destructives, they must be swept away and kept out of power, or you may depend upon it there will be no more stability in our Constitution then in a tottering chimney during a high wind." —All parties were greatly amused at the sweep's eloquence. It had the desired effect, and the Marquis was shortly afterwards duly elected. The sweep thereupon gave him a hearty cheer, and said, "My Lord, you will always find a friend in me, for you know I am true blue, and I hunts with the Duke."
(Sherborne Mercury, 26 Jan 1835, p3)
The next interesting article is entitled "The Hunting Sweep, or a Day with the Duke of Beaufort" which appeared in several papers, but the earliest one I found was in Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 18 Dec 1836, p3. It is a long article, but in essence it describes a hunt attended by the sweep, as well as the Duke of Beaufort, the Marquis of Worcester, the Earl of Wilton, Lord Andover, Lord Seymour and five MPs, amongst others. Vizard "was mounted on his old chestnut horse, with ... a pad for a saddle, no stirrups, and a bridle ... The sweep was in his sooty attire ... with a brush for a whip." When the Duke (who had been the Marquis at the election a year earlier, but had now succeeded his father to the Dukedom) appeared, the sweep "immediately rode forward, received the congratulations of his Grace, and returned them by placing his brush horizontally in front of his hat a la militaire. ... The sweep jumped on his nag, and stood erect upon one leg, extending the other in the air, holding the reins in one hand, and holding out the brush with the other, like a flying Mercury. He then showed his skill in horsemanship by galloping round the circle in this attitude, amidst the waving of handkerchiefs and to the infinite amusement of all present."
The hunt then commenced, and Vizard was in at the end and declared to all as he departed for home "I hope we part to meet again, for I am so well pleased with the day's sport that for the rest of the season 'I hunts with the Duke.' "
What a fascinating character to be able to claim as my own!