Female chimney sweep unearths dead owl and stuffs the bird to give it ‘everlasting life’

Uttlesford chimney sweep Jessica Hayes with the stuffed tawny owl.

Uttlesford chimney sweep Jessica Hayes with the stuffed tawny owl. - Credit: Archant

Ever heard the one about the female chimney sweep who discovered a dead owl, shoved it in her freezer and took it to a taxidermist to learn how to stuff it?

Barmy as it sounds, that is exactly what Jessica Hayes did.

The Debden-based mother-of-three, believed to be the only female chimney sweep in Uttlesford, embarked on her wacky idea after discovering the dead tawny owl at a property in Arkesden.

Unable to bring herself to bury the endangered species, Jessica telephoned Phil Gates, of Fenland Taxidermy, and signed up to learn a new skill.

“It was absolutely fascinating,” she said, after completing the process last month. “I really enjoyed doing it but I don’t think I’m going to add taxi-dermist to my list of services!”


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Jessica, who has been a chimney sweep for three years, added: “When I found the owl in the chimney I thought it was a squirrel because it was really furry. It’s so unusual to find something like this.

“It was funny because I stuck it in the freezer and put a post-it note on the door which read ‘defrost owl’, as a reminder ahead of my taxidermist course.

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“I said to the kids one night: ‘What would you like for dinner? Pizza, chips or owl?’ I think they thought I was mad!”

Now that the owl is ready for display, Jessica has earmarked a spot in her kitchen on which to show-off her prized-possession.

She said: “It’s desperately sad because the owl was such a beautiful and rare creature.

“Although it died I wanted to give it everlasting life [by stuffing it], so that it can look down at us all with its beguiling expression.”

Despite the quirky nature of the tale, Jessica said it carried with it a serious message.

“All sorts of things can come down your chimney that you don’t know about,” said Jessica, of Saffron Walden Village Chimney Sweep.

“Now is the best time to get it cleared because last year’s mild winter means many more people are going to get it done in November to January, when we get incredibly busy.”

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