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The dark history of Chimney Sweeps

crown chimney chimney sweep nhChimney Sweeps in NH are a part of a tradition that has been around since man figured out the fireplace. As man went from an open bonfire in the middle of the room, to multi story houses where flues were incorporated the use of clearing the chimney.

Henry Mayhew wrote in 1851 a little bit about the evolution of the chimney sweep from his history. His “Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing boys” is one of the best documents as to the evolution of the profession and the dangers that faced the individuals that took over the role. When the incorporation of chimneys was first utilized the servant of the home would stick a broom up as far as they could in an attempt to clear the fire place. Many times straw was kindled at the hearths.

When the use of chimney sweeps became more of a business venture, the Master Sweep would hire boys from the workhouse to clean the chimneys. During this dark time in Chimney Sweep history, children were used because they were small enough to climb into the narrow chimneys and clear out the soot and creosote. This would result in many painful cuts on the children’s elbows and knees. There was also the chance of death.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, before many child labor laws, children as young as 4 were able to clean the chimneys. The children were the only ones who could fit when the chimneys were about 9 by 14 inches wide. However, suffocation and becoming trapped in chimney were valid concerns of the children of the day.

William Blake, in his Songs of Experience wrote a poem about the Chimney Sweeper in England. In his poem, The Chimney Sweeper, written during the use of child apprentices, he addresses the dangers of the sweeping for children.

This history is a dark one. The children were at risk of respiratory disease and suffocation from the soot that they breathed in. Aside from the possibility of getting stuck, the long term health issues were broad. Many times they child sweeps did not make it past 25. Though the typical portrayal of a chimney sweep is Bert from Mary Poppins the reality is quite different. The use of children lasted until about 1875. In 1875, The Chimney Sweepers Act of 1875 came in requiring the registration and supervision of all chimney sweeps across London. This was the first step in what would become present day chimney sweep regulations.

Thankfully all of our sweeps today are well protected and have no need to climb into the chimney. With vacuums and acid cleaning the difficult jobs are able to be taken care of with no issue or risk to the Sweep. With the rules and regulations that are out today you can be sure that your Chimney Sweep in NH will definitely be an adult, though they may not be able to sing “Step in Time” for you.

When you need a Chimney Sweep, feel free to call Crown Chimney. We will clean it right the first time with limited mess to you.