IT’S a dirty job - and John Bates did it for a whopping 65 years.
Now he has hung up his chimney sweeping brushes after deciding to call an end to his career at the age of 88.
The Silksworth grandad started in the business at the age of 23, when he was kept on following a trial at Clean Sweep arranged by the dole office.
Six months later he decided to go it alone and become his own boss, working until earlier this month when he decided to call it a day.
In the heyday of coal fires, he would work from 6am to 6pm, clearing up to 30 chimneys a day, but as gas and smoke-less fuels became more popular, demand died down.
But a hardcore of homeowners with solid fuel fires continued to call on his skills to keep theirs in top condition.
The £45 charge for today’s servicing is a step up from the four-and-sixpence - about 25p in today’s money - when he started out.
John has also been in demand to bring good luck to newly weds at their marriage ceremony, with friends and customers calling on him to attend the celebrations and join in the photos.
He said: “I was just a working bloke, making a living and I made a living because I worked hard.
“It was just chance I was sent by the dole office, my face fit and I got the job and it went from there.
“It was always the same customers, I would see them every six weeks.”
John took the tough decision to retire when the insurance cost of running his business and van got too high.
While John, who lives with son Ian, 51, and became a widower 16 years ago when wife Gwen died, says he is at a loss as to how to spend days, he plans to keep himself active by continuing his regular swims at the Raich Carter Centre.
He was a karate enthusiast for 35 years, rising to second dan black belt, and also played football for Sunderland Trades – earning the nickname of The Black Flash because he would turn out for the side after work still covered in coal dust.
John’s granddaughter Deborah Jones, 37, from Washington, joined mum Hilary Ramsay, 57, and sister Louise Fleming, 30, in congratulating him on his achievement.
Deborah said: “We’re proud of him and he still didn’t really want to retire this year, he could have continued going.”