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A History of Chimney Sweeps


A chimney sweep is a person who performs the act of cleaning chimneys as his or her way of making a living. Chimney sweeps go by many names including Chimney Technicians, Chimney Cleaners and Climbing Boys.


A chimney sweep is considered one of the oldest professions in the world dating back to the 17th century where it began in England. In this time you would pay a hearth tax depending on the size of your house which was determined by the number of hearths or chimneys you had.  Even in this early time people realized the need for cleaning out the deposits from their chimneys. Master sweeps of this time would buy young children from orphanages and capture young homeless children from the streets and force them into slavery. Using children, some as young as four, was a necessity due to lack of efficient tools... The children were the only ones that could fit up the flues to clean them with metal scrapers and their hands. It was common for master sweeps assistant to actually light a small fire in the fireplace or poke and prod the children to force them up to the top. It has been said, that that is where the saying “light a fire under you” comes from. The climbing boys, as they were referred to were prone to job related ailments including testicular cancer and twisted spines, and sometimes even choked to death or fell while cleaning the flues. These young chimney sweeps would sleep in cellars on bags of soot and would very rarely bath. It was thought that it was bad luck to bathe. When the children got older, some of them were re-trained for other professions while some stayed on to be journeyman to the master sweep. This practice went on many years before Acts of Parliament, finally approved by the House of Lords, outlawed the use of Climbing Boys. In 1864 Lord Shaftesbury brought in the "Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers" which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. Other contributing factors to not using the children were the invention of chimney sweeping tools. An engineer from Bristol, Joseph Glass invented the earliest forms of brushes and rods which are still used to this day. The other method of cleaning chimney flues which came from England was the ball, rope and brush system which is also still in use to this day.


Chimney sweep profession died down for a while but picked up again around the time of the industrial revolution... With the price of fossil fuel at record high prices homeowners more then ever are looking for alternate ways of heating there homes, wood and coal stoves have become increasingly popular and so has the need for the chimney sweep. Many of the oil burner and gas burner manufacturers have tried to answer the call from an today’s energy conscience public by introducing super efficient products. But many of the chimneys were not capable of safely drafting these new appliances once again enter the chimney sweep.

Today’s chimney sweeps are trained professionals who not only sweep chimneys, but also diagnose and make repairs. They install fireplace and hearth products, and are educated on the science and codes for chimneys and fireplaces. With the innovation of modern chimney inspection and repair tools, training and certification programs for chimney sweeps have come a long way. Schools such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Fireplace Institute help educate and certify chimney sweeps, while organizations such as the National Chimney Sweep Guild is a member based organization that helps promote chimney sweeping and educate the public on the need for safe properly functioning chimneys. The National Fire Protection Agency writes the codes that many of today’s chimney sweeps and municipalities use to ensure safe properly functioning chimneys.

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