Chimney sweeps have been around since 1200 but it was not until the Great Fire of London when buildings regulations were put in place that chimney sweeps were properly used. The regulations meant that the chimney design was altered so that the flue became angular and narrow. This meant the masters were no longer able to reach inside to clean the space and so employed small boys to climb up and dislodge any residue, debris or soot.
This became common practice in the UK for centuries but it is not the only country that has a history with chimney sweeps. Here we have 10 interesting facts about the history of chimney sweeps around the world.
- After the world became more industrialised, being a chimney sweep was a well sought after job as there was a high demand.
- As opposed to other European countries, in Germany whilst chimney sweeps were included in trade guilds, the boys who climbed the chimneys were not formally employed.
- Chimney sweeping was always a very dangerous and difficult job, especially for the young boys that were employed but the pay remained low.
- The role of the chimney sweep has inspired countless works of art, literature, and theatre. Often in the past, you would see chimney sweeps depicted in pantomimes. Infamously of course chimney sweeps feature in Disney’s Mary Poppins with the song ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’.
- The chimney was very narrowly designed with the standard flue size being around 14×9 inches.
- A man named George Smart in seen as the inventor of the first mechanical chimney sweeping the machine in 1803.
- In 1828 a man named John Glass went on to create a new and improved version of Smart’s sweeping machine. As part of this, he created the modern chimney sweep brush that is used today.
- Chimney sweeps were also widely used in America and during this time black sweep boys were hired from the South of the country to work in the North as chimney sweeps for the wealthy.
- Chimney sweeping has always been considered as a dangerous job with many boys either dying on the job or years later experiencing problems as a direct result. When working, the boys could burn to death as their employers would light fires beneath them to make them sweep faster. They could also easily suffocate or even get stuck in narrow flues. Those that did survive would go on to live short lives from inhaling toxic chemicals and soot in. Most would die from respiratory issues or cancer.
- The risk of getting cancer from sweeping chimneys was extremely high because the soot in the chimneys was a carcinogen. One of the most infamous forms of cancer caused by sweeping chimneys was scrotal cancer. This was often as a result of being in tight space, usually climbing naked and not having the chance to shower.