In 1788, King George III of Britain passed an act entitled “An Act for the Better Regulation of Chimney Sweeps and their Apprentices.” The act was primarily intended to protect the rights and safety of the chimney sweep apprentices. Generally, these “apprentices” were indentured young boys around the age of six who had been sold to the sweep by their parents.
These boys often endured heartbreaking conditions. Since the master sweep was an adult man – too large to fit inside a chimney – he would send his apprentices up the chimney to scrape and clean creosote off of the chimney’s interior. Because the small boys were often afraid to climb up into the small space, it was not uncommon for the master sweep to ignite a fire as a means of “encouraging” the child to scramble through his work quickly. Many boys were traumatized by this work, and because chimneys of this era featured many odd angles and cramped interiors, some even got stuck and died as a result of asphyxiation. Unfortunately, the abuse doesn’t stop there – these boys faced miserable living conditions.
In opposition of this child abuse, the aforementioned act (more often referred to by its abbreviation, “The Chimney Sweeps Act”) was passed in 1788. This was the first act of many that demanded better treatment of chimney sweep apprentices, until the apprenticeship of anyone under the age of 21 was abolished entirely in 1840.