Coal became the primary source of residential heating with the start of the Industrial Revolution. When chimney fires in overcrowded towns began to emit hazy haze. A chimney sweep job was necessary to prevent flames from erupting in the household.Chimney fires can develop when the interior of a chimney becomes congested or partially clogged by a build-up of soot. Coal produces a sticky soot that is difficult to remove, and soot buildup on chimney edges necessitates scraping.
Chimney Sweeps were required to keep people’s chimneys clean. They had long-handled brushes to which the sweep attached extension rods as the brush climbed the chimney. However, the brushes did get stuck on occasion.
The simplest approach to get rid of the soot was to send small children or “climbing lads” to do it. Because some chimneys were incredibly thin – as small as 8 inches square – the smaller the boy, the better. Master Sweeps would purchase orphaned youngsters and take in young homeless children from the streets.
These children ranged in age from 5 to 10, with the majority being under the age of seven, and some as young as four. These youngsters were tasked with cleaning soot deposits off chimneys. The chimney sweep master was in charge of feeding, clothing, and housing them while teaching them the job.
The climbing lads’ working conditions were severe and nasty. It was a dangerous and filthy job for the guys to take on, especially without the safety gear and respirators.
Many had bent spines and kneecaps, malformed ankles, eye inflammations, and respiratory problems as a result of their jobs. Many people also developed the first documented industrial disease, chimney sweeps’ cancer, which was caused by the continual irritation of coal tar soot on the skin.
Unfortunately, these climbing lads have been known to choke and suffocate to death from inhaling chimney dust or becoming caught in the tight and complicated chimney flues. Many youngsters were wounded or killed after falling or being badly burned, so casualties were common.
Sweeps were prohibited from employing children to go up chimneys by legislation in 1842, but this did not stop them from using their own children to undertake the dreadful labor. Some parents sent their own children (boys and girls) up chimneys as young as four or five years old.
After years of agitation, the House of Lords ultimately passed an Act of Parliament in 1864 prohibiting the employment of children for chimney climbing. The Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers by Lord Shaftsbury set a penalty of £10 for violators. The Act had widespread support from the police, the public, and the courts, signaling the end of the era of the “climbing lads.”
Professional chimney sweeps aren’t covered in soot anymore, but they are well-versed in the science of chimneys and fireplaces, as well as building codes. Chimney specialists now are trained to manage many types of venting systems, including chimneys and flues, as well as wood burners and pellet burners.
partnered post • cc-licensed image by Ivan Saracino