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That sweeps bring luck is implied by the Jack-in-the-Green, known since the late 18th century, and is explicitly stated in many texts from the 1880s to the present. On seeing a sweep in the street in his working clothes and with his face blackened, one had to bow, raise one's hat, curtsey, or call out a greeting; some of the references show that this belief was particularly strong among coachmen and race-goers (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 71–2).

Still common is the custom of having a sweep outside the church at a wedding to kiss the bride and shake hands with the groom, generally interpreted as a means of ensuring fertility. A recent press report (Sunday Telegraph (28 Dec. 1997), 17) states that sweeps can earn £60 for this, as against £25 for a cleaning job, and that many do two or three weddings every weekend; they generally attend in pairs, wearing top hat and tails, carrying their brushes, and with their faces blacked. They claim that George II decreed that sweeps would ‘bring good luck to the land’ after his life was saved by one who managed to halt his carriage horses when they bolted, and that this is generally known: ‘Old people have always come up to us in the street and touched us for good luck, and since the National Lottery began everybody has been doing it.’


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