Here in Eugene, Oregon the weather is getting cooler and it’s obvious that autumn has arrived and Halloween is right around the corner. In light of this, we thought we would share with you a little history about chimney sweeping. Be warned: things might get a little spooky!
The vocation of chimney sweeping has been around for hundreds of years and is still an important profession today. Because of the technical, mechanical and ethical advancements, you may be surprised to learn that chimney sweeping used to be considerably dangerous and scary. Especially for the children recruited as apprentices a.k.a. “climbing boys.”
From Climbing Boy to Journeyman Sweep
Since the mechanical sweeping machine wasn’t invented until the early 1800s and regulations weren’t enforced until 1875, chimney sweeping before that was performed by hand and with simple tools such as brushes and metal scraper. Boys (and sometimes girls) as young as three or four and usually orphans or paupers were placed in the custody of the master sweep who they were bound to until adulthood. The master sweep, being an adult, was too large to fit inside a chimney and therefore needed the small children to help clean properly. Masters did not pay their young apprentices, but were responsible for teaching, cleaning, housing and feeding them. Apprentices would work under the master’s command, often subjected to grueling and dangerous environments, and would scrape soot out of chimneys with the hope of making it through their years-long apprenticeships until they were no longer able to fit inside a stack. Once that day came, an apprentice became a journeyman sweep.
A Dangerous Start
During the Age of Industrialization, people flooded into the cities. With increased urban population came more and bigger buildings. Chimneys were grouped together and could have many flues connecting to individual grates. Flues were narrow (9×9 inches) and could include 90 degree turns and horizontal and vertical sections making it extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate. Obviously, a climbing boy wasn’t always so eager to do his job; he was sometimes encouraged to climb higher and work faster by the master sweep who would light a small fire beneath him or make another boy prick him with needles. It comes as no surprise that the children often got stuck inside the chimneys, were prone to burns and suffocation and many developed cancer from the carcinogenic soot they were constantly exposed to.
Modern Chimney Sweeps Save the Day!
Luckily, modern chimney sweeping conditions and techniques have improved tenfold. Chimney sweeps are done by adult professionals with extensive training in inspections, cleaning and repairing chimneys, safety hazards and removal of flammable creosote. We still use the standard chimney brush but we also use modern tools such as cameras, vacuums and specialized cleaning tools and products. Needless to say, it’s a much safer and more efficient practice!
To learn more about the history of chimney sweeping, stay tuned to our blog for more updates. With the Oregon Chimney Guys, it’s all treats and no tricks! For any of our great services, call or visit our website.