A brief history of Chimney Sweeping

A brief history of Chimney Sweeping

Even in the Georgian period of history of chimney sweeping, it was understood that chimneys had to be brush cleaned. Back then the 17th century Master Sweep of the day would employ small boys to climb and scramble up chimneys. The task for these climbing boys was to brush clean the inside of the flue with small hand-held brushes and they also used metal scrapers to remove the harder tar deposits left by wood or log fire smoke.

The boys were apprentices and were bound to the trade as young as seven years old. A Master was paid a fee to clothe, keep and teach the child his trade. Sweeps’ Boys were usually parish children or orphans; though others were sold into the trade by their families. Some grew up to be Journeymen (assistants to the Master) and the remainder were put out to various trades to try to learn a new occupation. There was even a London Society of Master Sweeps with its own set of rules, one of which included that boys were not required to work on Sundays but had to attend Sunday School, to study, learn and read the Bible.

However, conditions for the boys were harsh and often cruel, they slept in cellars on bags of soot and were seldom washed. It was a dangerous and filthy job for the boys to do, especially without the protection of modern safety clothing and respirators. Years of accumulated soot and grime often produced chimney sweeps cancer (of the testicles).There are many recorded instances where these Climbing Boys choked and suffocated to death by dust inhalation whilst attempting to clean chimneys. Casualties were also often due to boys becoming stuck in narrow flues or falling from climbing rotten chimney stacks.

It took many years and campaigns before Acts of Parliament finally approved by the House of Lords outlawed the use of Climbing Boys. In 1864 Lord Shaftesbury brought in the “Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers” which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders.

In the early part of the 18th century various types of chimney cleaning methods were being developed. An engineer from Bristol, Mr. Joseph Glass is widely recognised as the inventor of the chimney cleaning equipment which has become universal even to this day. His was the design and introduction of canes and brushes, which could be pushed and propelled up from the fireplace into the chimney above. Early canes were made of Malacca and imported from the East Indies and brushes were made of whale bones.

1800'sThe other method of cleaning flues that was developed originally came from the Continent – Europe (and was adopted in Scotland because of the historical contacts we had with Europe) was the ball, brush and rope system which was lowered down from the top of the chimney. The weight of the lead or iron ball pulls the brush down, cleaning the chimney. With the Industrial Revolution and ever greater demand for coal production, chimney sweeps grew in numbers. In Victorian London, there were over 1,000 chimney sweeps serving the area.
The continued expansion of coal as the main fuel for domestic heating ensured that the sweeping trade flourished. This was up to the early 1960s when gas began to be installed and replace coal as a source of domestic heating. The switch to gas continued in the seventies and many of the old-established family sweeps retired or gave up the business. Until this period, sweeps had traditionally cleaned only coal, wood and oil chimneys. Public awareness of the need for clean, safe and clear chimneys was almost non-existent but Carbon monoxide poisonings from blocked chimneys began to be noticed.

Above text copyright Martin Glynn, President of The National Association of Chimney Sweeps (Used & adapted without permission). You can read more here on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimney_sweep