Kids Used To Clean Chimneys In the UK
Child chimney sweeps in the UK endured harsh, dangerous labor conditions until a ban was implemented in 1875.
You would have seen houses in the UK, USA, Europe etc that have a fireplace and above that there is a Chimney? Nowaday there are many different ways to clean chimneys. But many years back this was done by humans and most specifically children.
Did you know that there’s a terrible chapter in the UK's history of chimney sweeps? Children were widely used as human chimney sweeps in England for about 200 years. The life of these children was a nightmare. The Great Fire of London occurred from 2nd September to 5th September 1666 which gutted (burnt the entire city). After this fire, new rules for building houses were passed so that the city remains safe. As per new rules, fireplaces had to be built a certain way, with narrower chimneys and the chimneys had to be free from any kind of obstruction. This is when the shocking use and abuse of children as chimney sweeps became widespread. Usually these children, starting from the age of 6 and sometimes from the age of 4 were purchased from their poor parents. The master would tell the parents that he’s ‘training’ the child; but in reality, the child became a slave. Children who worked as sweeps rarely lived past middle age (30 - 40 age). Child chimney sweeps had to crawl through chimneys which were only about 18 inches wide. The child had to use a brush overhead to knock down the loose soot. The soot would fall over the child. Cleaning this way, the child had to climb up the chimney. Once the child reached the top, he would slide down and collect the soot pile for his master, who would sell it. The children received no wages at all. Sometimes their cold-hearted masters would light fires in the fireplace to speed up the boys to climb more quickly. The health effects of doing this work were devastating. The children often became stunted in their growth and disfigured because of the unnatural position they were frequently in before their bones had fully developed. Their knees and ankle joints were affected most often. The children’s lungs would become diseased, and their eyelids were often sore and inflamed. The boys during their adolescence would often develop Chimney Sweep Cancer which was cancer of the scrotum. It was a painful and often fatal cancer. In addition to these health hazards, the boys would sometimes get stuck and die in chimneys for various reasons. The boys usually slept in a cellar (room) with the black sacks used to collect soot. Some say they bathed about once a week, and other sources say they only bathed about three times a year. The boys were mercilessly made to work from before sunrise until late at night, and had only one day off per year. This holiday was on May Day (1st May) or “International Labour Day.” The children celebrated by parading through streets, dancing. In February of 1875, a 12-year-old chimney sweep named George Brewster stuck in Fulbourn Hospital chimneys, where he was sent by his master, William Wyer . An entire wall was pulled down in an attempt to rescue the boy, but he died shortly after the rescue. Wyer was found guilty of manslaughter. Brewster’s death led to an aggressive campaign to stop using children as chimney sweeps. A Bill was passed in the UK's Parliament in September 1875 which put an end to the practice of using children as human chimney sweeps in England. George Brewster was the last child to die in a chimney in the UK. Unfortunately, The United States of America continued to use children as chimney sweeps for some time after it was banned in the UK.