A Brief History of Chimney Sweeps

Chimney sweeps have a dark and interesting history, that many people do not realize in this modern day and age. It is said that the Romans built some of the first fireplaces inside of living quarters. Chimneys were built to replace the open fire concept that would heat a single room house. Over the next four hundred years in the 16th century, England rooms were smaller, and the idea of a chimney inside people’s homes started to become more known as a source of heating multiple areas inside a house or building. During the industrial revolution between the 17th and 18th century, homes with a built-in chimney were becoming commonplace all over the world. During this time, coal started to replace wood as a primary fuel for the chimneys. This fossil fuel caused far more toxic and flammable buildup than natural wood. The Great Fire of London in 1666 consumed over 13,000 homes, 87 churches, and destroyed an estimate of 70,000 of the city’s inhabitants. Because of this event, the building regulations changed, and chimney design was altered to become more accessible for regularly scheduled cleanings.¬†

Early chimney¬†sweeps in the United Kingdom “hired” young boys as young as six years old from the workhouse, orphanages, or would buy them from their parents to work as an apprentice. Older men were too large to fit inside the narrow brick flues, so the younger apprentices would have to climb into the chimneys often with no clothing and would have to propel themselves by their knees and elbows while holding a large flat brush to scrape the soot off of the walls of the chimney. It was the master sweeps job to teach the kids the art of chimney sweeping, provide them with clothes, allow them to attend church, and wash them once a week. Work was dangerous for these young boys, since chimneys are as tall as the house, and often have sharp angles and twists inside of the flue. This could cause them to get stuck in the chimney, sometimes resulting in death. The children were also very prone to getting Chimney Sweeps’ Carcinoma due to their living conditions, as they rarely washed themselves off after a day of hard work. Once the apprentices had completed his seven-year apprenticeship, he then becomes a journeyman and can pick the master sweep of his choice to work with.