The Strange History of Chimney Sweeping | Nexus Chimney Services

June 18, 2019

These days, most peoples’ idea of a chimney sweep probably comes from the Mary Poppins movie, wherein a sweep named Bert sings cheerfully about the lucky life he leads. Sadly, though, the true history of chimney sweeping is far different than the Disney portrayal. For centuries, chimney sweeping was not an enviable or safe profession, though it was always very much needed. Here are some interesting facts about the history of chimney sweeping from an Apex chimney company.

The First Chimney Sweeps

Professional chimney sweeping began in 16th century England. Originally, only the ruling class had chimneys, and chimney sweeps had the dirty job of keeping them clean. It wasn’t long, however, before the working class began requesting that fireplaces and chimneys be built in every room of their homes, giving sweeps plenty of work to do. Sometimes, chimney sweeps would simply move from roof to roof, cleaning out soot and creosote as they went.

The Hazards of Early Chimney Cleaning

In the 17th century, England began charging a hefty hearth tax based on how many chimneys a home had. In order to avoid the tax, builders began connecting flues with existing chimneys, creating narrow, pitch black, complex mazes. When people started using coal instead of firewood, chimney sweeping became even dangerous, and even more necessary, because the sticky soot created toxic fumes if not cleaned.

Chimney Sweeping and Child Labor

Unfortunately, the preferred method of cleaning these narrow, maze-like chimneys was using small children. Young chimney sweeps were usually either orphans, or impoverished children sold by their parents. The small boys, who were usually between the ages of 5 and 11, lived difficult and miserable lives, suffering from respiratory issues and a host of other problems. Sometimes, if a child was hesitant to climb into a space, the chimney master would light a small fire in the fireplace as motivation. This is where the phrase “to light a fire under someone” originated.

Chimney Sweep Reforms

Many people recognized the cruel treatment suffered by the young sweeps, and efforts were made to put an end to it. Several prominent writers helped with the effort, such as William Blake, who penned a poem entitled “The Chimney Sweeper.” In 1864, the Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers was passed by the English Parliament, putting an end to child chimney sweeps in that country. Other nations soon caught up.

Chimney Sweeping Today

Luckily, today’s chimney sweeps are much older, much more experienced, and much more protected than the sweeps of the past. Chimney cleaning companies such as ours use brushes and canes to remove creosote, and our technicians use face and throat protection to prevent creosote inhalation. We are also able to lower cameras into the flues in order to detect whether there is any damage to the lining, a safe way of spotting if you need a chimney repair.

Schedule an Apex Chimney Inspection with Nexus Chimney!

If you need help keeping your chimney clean, contact our Apex chimney company today. Our chimney repair, chimney installation, and chimney cleaning services will ensure your fireplace is always safe to use—no child labor involved!