Mounted on a chestnut brown horse sits a charismatic man, hat in hand, face blackened with soot and a sweep brush tucked under his arm. He accompanies four gentlemen fashionably dressed in green hunting coats with hounds eagerly poised for the day’s activities. The ‘sooted’ man seems rather out of place in this traditional sporting portrait - depicting the young Marquess of Worcester, Henry Charles Fitzroy Somerset (1824-1899), preparing to ride with William Long, the Huntsman to the Beaufort Hunt, in the grounds of Badminton House in 1837 – however, research into contemporary accounts of the period show ‘The Badminton Sweep’, William Vizard of Chipping Sudbury, to be an important figure in the scene.
Born in 1792, Vizard was a chimney sweep that had industriously found himself in the circles of the gentry and was somewhat of a celebrity. According to the news of the day, he had come to acquire property, “political creed” and the favour of the 6th Duke of Beaufort. Although a man of Reformist principals, when approached by two Reform candidates seeking his support and vote in the local elections of 1829, Vizard surprisingly responded “to tell you the truth, gem’mem, I can’t vote for you, ‘cause I hunts with the Duke.”
Three years on, in 1832, Vizard demonstrated his political influence again when the 6th Duke’s son, the Marquess of Worcester (set to become the 7th Duke in 1835) was running for a seat. During the hustings, the sweep moved forward vehemently declaring support for the Marquess. According to the account, Vizard continued to express his displeasure of the state of country, stating he no longer supported the Reformists and that “they must be swept away and kept out of power, or you may depend upon it there will be no stability in our Constitution then in a tottering chimney during a high wind.” The Marquess was shortly elected.
When the 6th Duke of Beaufort died in 1835, Vizard removed himself from the hunting scene for a period of mourning. His return was famously recorded in several periodicals in an article entitled ‘The Hunting Sweep, or a Day with the Duke of Beaufort’. It was no quiet affair, demonstrating his horseman skills, Vizard jumped on his horse, stood upon one leg with the other extended mid-air, reins in one hand and his sweep brush in the other, “like a flying Mercury”. The renowned sporting artist, Richard Barrett Davis (1782 -1854), captured the scene in The Sporting Sweep, a portrait reproduced alongside the tale in a many a publication including The Gentleman’s Magazine (1838) and Craven’s The Sporting Review (1840).
“We must not omit to notice the appearance, on this occasion, of a very distinguished character, who takes a prominent part in all the sports in this quarter of the country—we mean the celebrated “hunting sweep, vot ‘unts with the Dook,” and who has been made the subject of a very diverting electioneering caricature..."
“We must not omit to notice the appearance, on this occasion, of a very distinguished character, who takes a prominent part in all the sports in this quarter of the country—we mean the celebrated “hunting sweep, vot ‘unts with the Dook,” and who has been made the subject of a very diverting electioneering caricature. He appeared as usual, mounted on his “trusty old ‘unter,” and in the identical sables, both as to skin and toggery, which mark and distinguish his peculiar his peculiar vocation, not omitting his chimney-brush, which was tucked in his ‘unting belt. His urbanity of manner, and respectfully familiar mode of recognising and addressing his aristocratical brother sportsmen, caused many smiles and much wonderment among those who were not acquainted with the friendly footing which he has obtained among the sons of the turf equally zealous followers of the “brush.” – Cheltenham Looker, Saturday 21 December 1839.
At first glance the subject of this picture appears to be a typical hunting scene, in which clear lines are drawn between the social strata. However, it is not until further exploration that we discover the sooty sweep, astride his faithful chestnut Prosper, to be not just an addition but the main attraction.