Santa's Friend Chimney Service

The History of Chimney Sweeps

We tend to forget that the history of chimney sweeps is fairly short, extending back only to the middle of the seventeenth century. Unlike “short histories” in travel brochures for London that pre-date Christ, a presentation of one is in fact possible for its chimney sweeps. Apprenticed to master sweeps after the city’s Great Fire in 1666, young boys in London were the world’s first professional sweeps for modern chimneys.

Chimney Sweep History - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend Chimney

From Smoke Vents to Modern Chimneys

Master sweeps have probably been around for another five centuries, even if only cleaning the chimneys of the very rich. Chimneys appeared early in the 13th Century, but they were big enough for anyone to get into. Better than unvented open fires at the centers of houses, they were still essentially vents for smoke. Only the wealthy would have called in chimney sweeps to routinely tackle the creosote buildup on the inside of the chimney.

All of that changed with London’s Great Fire, because suddenly chimneys were required to be so small that only small boys could climb into them. Then fairly commonplace in middle class homes, chimneys were now required to create an updraft in order to lessen creosote accumulation. That meant much smaller chimneys than before; combined with urban density, their increasing popularity additionally meant joining chimney components at sharp angles.

Not a Good Fit

Those two things combined to make it impossible for master sweeps to do the jobs at which they claimed to excel. Orphans and street kids were abundant, and they had the small bodies and poor circumstances that made them perfect targets for apprenticeship. In no position to make demands about safety, wages, or working conditions, these young boys were the Olivers of chimney sweeping.

Completely unprotected and largely unnoticed until 1778, child chimney sweeps daily took on the difficult and dangerous job of these professionals. It took another century to get children out of chimneys and begin to license professional chimney sweeps. Romanticized in film and literature, the job that professional chimney sweeps do has been dangerous throughout its “short” history.

By on March 22nd, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment