Chimney Sweeps and Climbing Boys

by Guest Blogger H. Linn Murphy 

Recently I was doing research on chimney sweeps for a book I was writing called HEART OF FIRE. It turns out the life of a chimney sweep (and especially that of his poor Climbing Boy or girl) isn’t at all like that of the glorified happy-go-lucky, slightly bespattered-yet-still-dapper man in Mary Poppins. Sweeping was hazardous, demeaning, and low-paying. Chimney sweeps often had to do double duty cleaning out privies, a job known as a “nightman.” 

Before the Great Fire of London, which happened on September 2nd through 5th, 1666, Climbing Boys rarely climbed chimneys. Afterwards, people were more worried about the layer of creosote and soot starting fires, so the smaller boys were used. In England, another great increase in the use of small children as Climbing Boys occurred after 1773 in an actual attempt to be more humanitarian. It was found that children were not surviving well in workhouses or orphanages. In many, even surviving for a year was difficult. Parliament passed an act which said children could spend no more than three weeks in a workhouse. In an effort to increase their chances for survival, more children were apprenticed out to occupations such as chimney sweeping and other jobs which needed cheap, expendable labor. 

Italy, Belgium, and France all used Climbing Boys as well. Germans did not, as the Sweeps belonged to Sweep Guilds. Scotland did not allow climbing either. The Sweep used bundles of rags or balls on chains or ropes dropped down from the top.  

Everything was taxed in 17th century Britain, along with hearths. The size of the house and number of chimneys shot the tax sky high. Which meant that builders of new homes or new chimneys connected new flues with the existing chimney, making for a veritable and truly dangerous maze of pitch black, cramped tunnels which jigged and bent around obstructions. 

As the use of coal for household fuel became more prevalent, Sweeps became more and more widely used. Coal dust (creosote) collected in the chimneys in greater quantities and could ignite and cause fires in the predominantly wooden structures. Soot was valuable and sold to farmers for fertilizer. Because the Sweep was generally too large to climb the chimneys, he usually employed two to twenty Climbing Boys, depending on how many of them he could keep alive. 

The parish generally paid a Master Sweep to employ as many four to thirteen year old destitute children and orphans as possible. Most often they started around the age of six, as before that, the children were often too weak to climb the often 400 feet to the tops of high chimneys. The children mainly signed letters of indenture, which forced them to work for the Sweep until they had reached their majority (adulthood). This took the children off the hands of the parish. The Sweep was even allowed to buy children from poor parents or kidnap homeless waifs from the street to use.  

The Master Sweep’s job was to teach the craft and all its secrets, take the child to church, desist in sending the child into a chimney currently on fire, and offer a second change of clothing and a weekly bath. There were, of course slackers who did not follow these rules. Baths were often much more rare than weekly. One sweep only bathed his apprentices on Christmas, Whitsun (just after Easter), and Goosefair (early October). Many only bathed them once monthly or bi-yearly, and that in the frigid river. They were seldom fed well, to keep them small enough to climb the chimneys. Often the child was so hungry he had to beg for food from the clients. Since the Sweep was to provide room and board, the Climbing Boy wasn’t paid and there was no limit to the hours a boy or girl worked. If the child received clothing from a client, dishonest Sweeps might take the clothing to sell for more money. 

The child agreed to obey the master without back-talking or harm, not be found in drinking or gaming dens (in their copious spare time), be thrifty with resources, and not tell their Sweep’s secrets or lend out his gear.  

Flues were often tight (some as small as 81 square inches) with normal flues being 14 inches by 9 inches narrowing to 9X9 inches near the chimney pots on top. The boy or girl would pull their cap over their face to keep out as much soot as possible, then shimmy up the chimney, negotiating the twists and turns which allowed the ever narrower chimney flue to send a shaft of hot gas to suck air down into the fire. The thinner the flue, the better the draw.

When they first started to work, the children often had raw and bleeding elbows and knees from climbing and then sliding quickly down the chimneys. It was the Sweep’s job to harden those spots using salt brine and a brush to work the brine in while the child stood next to a roaring fire. As you can guess, it wasn’t a pleasant occurrence and children had to be punished or bribed to withstand the hardening, which could take weeks or even years.

Often Climbing Boys got stuck in chimneys or lost their way in the maze of Stygian darkness. Heaven help the child that allowed his knees to get stuck next to his nose. If the sweep couldn’t push or pull the child out of the tight spot, the corpse had to be rescued by pulling bricks from the chimney.  Sometimes they burned or suffocated to death. The Sweep would stand on the roof with a bucket to extinguish the child if he called out. Soot could become dislodged with the child’s scraping and fall into his face, suffocating him.

Climbing Boys rarely got to bathe. Also, because the bag of clinker sometimes included warm coals, the Climbing Boy would sleep in or on the bag of clinker or ash for warmth. It was called Sleeping Black. Both meant they often contacted Chimney Sweep’s Cancer, as the clinker was highly carcinogenic and bore traces of arsenic, which nearly always led to death at least by middle age.

There were other occupational hazards. Often the Climbing Boy’s back, knees, ankles, and feet were stunted from starvation and staying in the same odd position for long periods of time while cleaning, or as the Sweep tried to extricate him. They suffered from blindness due to soot in the eyes, bruises, burns, asthma, and exposure to the elements. Often their only coat was the bag or blanket they used to haul soot and clinker back to the Sweep’s place.

It was a normal occurrence for the boy to clean the chimney in the nude so that his clothing wouldn’t catch on protuberances and get him stuck. They often went up warm or hot chimneys, some of which had fires in the soot, to put out the fire. If the boy or girl wasn’t working fast enough, unprincipled sweeps would light straw on fire beneath the sweep, which is where the saying “Light a fire under him” originates. Another way was to send another boy up through the claustrophobic, cloying soot to poke the Climbing Boy in the feet or rear with pins.

Even girls could be Climbing Boys, and if they survived the rigorous work and dangerous conditions, could become Master Sweeps themselves, employing Climbing Boys of their own.

In 1803 George Smart invented the first mechanical sweeping machine. John Glass marketed a new and improved sweeping machine in 1828, including the newest brush. But people were slow to trust the newfangled sweeping machine. Clearly a human would to a better job than any machine. In 1864, Parliament passed the “Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers” which ended the use of young boys to clean the chimneys and charged a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. It wasn’t until 1875 that the use of Climbing Boys was actively prohibited in England. Another thing which contributed to the decline of Sweeps was the advent of gas or electric heating.

The Sweep is rumored to be a symbol of good luck. In England, a Sweep brought good luck to a bride on the day of her wedding and would often hire himself out for the purpose. There are varying stories about the origin of that belief. In many of the Eastern European countries it’s good luck to rub your buttons when you pass a Sweep. In Germany, Sweep figures of candy (usually marzipan) or ornaments attached to bouquets of flowers are given as good luck gifts on New Years. In Italy, the Sweep is called “Spazzacamini.”

European Sweeps still wear a black top hat and black uniform with golden buttons. The origin story for the top hat is also varied. Americans don’t usually wear the traditional uniform, as the tails and buttons get in the way and they consider it undignified.

Now they use a selection of brushes, chippers, lead or iron balls, vacuums, and cameras, and sweep the chimney usually from the bottom. They can evaluate the situation and are often trained to repair, replace, or build the chimney and cement crown.

 In my book HEART OF FIRE, Joss is employed as a Climbing Boy for a short time. His Sweep is an unprincipled wretch and interested in much more than cleaning chimneys. HEART OF FIRE should be out in April 2017.

Meanwhile, check out my blog at www.murph4slaw.blogspot.com and my newest book, SUMMERHOUSE

 

 

Servants in Regency England

By Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - Visipix.com

By Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin – Visipix.com

Servants were an indispensable part of running any Big House throughout the ages, including those in existence in Regency England. Manor houses and castles where the upper classes lived were huge and required an army of servants to keep them clean and well-maintained. Also, the owners themselves required a great deal of help from their staff. According to  The Victorian Domestic Servant, the Duke of Bedford had 300 servants in his employ, and the Duke of Portland employed 320. To be sure, not all Big Houses had quite so many, and upper class people who lived in more modest houses employed far fewer servants. However, all seemed to have servants.

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood ladies had to count every penny once they were removed from their home, but they still had two servants to help them while they lived in their humble cottage. The care of clothing alone, not to mention cooking or cleaning, was a major undertaking in those days, and gently bred ladies certainly would have lacked those skills. Even members of the gentry who considered themselves poor probably had at least a maid of all work who did everything–cleaning fireplaces, laundry, dishes, dusting, sweeping, scrubbing floors, etc. and was still expected to wait on the ladies in the home. Single gentlemen who lived alone in their bachelor’s rooms had at least one male equivalent of a maid of all work, often referred to as a valet (though his tasks would have been more varied than if he were a valet for a lord in a Big House). This all-around male servant was often simply referred to as a “boy” or a “man.”

Servants’ duties mostly took place out of sight. It was good form for a servant to be silent and invisible, which is why so many houses have secret passageways–they were usually servants’ stairways and corridors. Servants arose hours before their masters and worked late into the night. They were also at the mercy of their employers and were called upon to work in any kind of weather, at any hour of the day, with few personal days off, and often had poor accommodations.

servantClasses existed in the world of servants from the top which included the head butler, head housekeeper, and chef, right down the to very bottom to the scullery maid and ‘tween stairs maid. They all knew where they fit in that hierarchy, just as businesses have a hierarchy from the president down to the janitor. Ladies’ maids were high on that ladder, often dressed well and had only to serve their lady’s personal needs, dress her, and style her hair. In some houses, the lady’s maid was also charged with caring for her lady’s clothing, but most houses sent the laundry out to a laundress. The footman was also a coveted position. His main role was to be young and handsome, wear livery (a costly uniform), and open doors as well as run the occasional errand such as carrying his lady’s packages on a shopping expedition.

Most servants were unmarried. Employers didn’t want servants distracted by spouses or children. Since servants must be at their lord and lady’s beck and call, they slept in the servants’ quarters, usually in the upper floors or attic, or on a pallet in the kitchen floor, and could be dragged out of bed without a second thought if their lord had need of them. Essentially, servants were married to their jobs. Some male house servants married, but they had very few days off a month when they could go home. Outdoor servants, however, such as stable hands, gardeners, and gamekeepers usually stayed in their own little cottages somewhere on the grounds. It was fairly common for these servants to be married and have families.

Female servants who wanted to marry did so with the understanding that their position in the house was forfeit.  Occasionally, the head housekeeper and butler were a couple, but she only joined the staff after her children were raised.

A servant’s pay was meager, the hours long, and the work often back-breaking, but there was never a shortage of applicants–after all, house servants had a place to sleep and regular meals, not something they could obtain from most other jobs such as those in a factory. In addition, their tasks usually had little to no risk of danger, also unlike factory jobs.

I admit, having a chef and maid of all work sounds very appealing, doesn’t it?

 

For further reading, I recommend:

The Victorian Domestic Servant by Trevor May

http://www.susannaives.com/nancyregencyresearcher/

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/regency-servants/

http://rth.org.uk/regency-period/family-life/servants

Novels told from a servants’ point of view which are well-written and carefully researched are:

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist

 

New Release: Announcing THE SUSPECT’S DAUGHTER

Readers asked for it, so they got it–the story of the dark and mysterious Grant Amesbury who, in the course of his brothers’ books, gives glimpses into a tender heart buried far below layers of protective sarcasm. His story, at long last, is told in book 4 of the Rogue Hearts Series,  The Suspect’s Daughter coming December 15, 2015.  

As a present to my readers, I hurried up production to get this published before Christmas.  You’re welcome.

The Suspect’s Daughter is available for pre-order now exclusively through Amazon. Pre-orders are crucial to a book’s success–it allows the highest possible number of sales to happen simultaneously–the best way a book achieves the coveted “best seller” label. So please follow the link now to pre-order a copy for yourself and for your favorite historical romance readers–friend, sister, mom, teacher, aunt, etc.

     Come join my book blog tour and win lots of great prizes and free stuff all week long at Prism Book Tours.

On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

Book Tour for
The Suspect’s Daughter
By Donna Hatch

Tour Schedule
12/9: Bookworm LisaGetting Your Read On, & I Am A Reader
12/10: Katie’s Clean Book CollectionTeatime and Books, & Reading Is My SuperPower
12/11: Christy’s Cozy Cornersunderneath the covers, & Colorimetry
12/13: deal sharing auntRockin’ Book Reviews, & Wishful Endings
12/14: Bookworm NationSinging Librarian Books
12/15: Release-Day Grand Finale

Introduction to The Suspect’s Daughter

Though Grant Amesbury is a cynic and a loner, his brothers always turned to him when they needed help. He’d be the last one to classify himself as a dark knight, but he thrives on chasing down villains and dragging them to justice–dead or alive. Intriguing and enigmatic, Grant has captivated readers since the first book in the series, The Stranger She Married, hit bookstores. And each time he appeared in subsequent books, The Guise of a Gentleman, and A Perfect Secret, his fan base grew as did requests for his very own story.

Now, at long last, his story is told in The Suspect’s Daughter. The Suspect’s Daughter is book 4 of The Rogue Hearts Series, but it is written as a stand-alone novel. There are a few references to previous incidents and people in other books, but readers will easily follow the overall series story line.

In this new novel, Grant has met his match. Not only is Jocelyn his perfect opposite–light to his darkness–but she matches him in wit and courage. But Jocelyn has her own problems, and a troublesome man does not fit into her plans.

— Donna

The Suspect’s Daughter
(Rogue Hearts, #4)
by Donna Hatch
Adult Historical Romance
Paperback & ebook, 298 pages
December 15th 2015

Pre-order now exclusively through Amazon

Determined to help her father with his political career, Jocelyn sets aside dreams of love. When she meets the handsome and mysterious Grant Amesbury, her dreams of true love reawaken. But his secrets put her family in peril.

Grant goes undercover to capture conspirators avowed to murder the prime minister, but his only suspect is the father of a courageous lady who is growing increasingly hard to ignore. He can’t allow Jocelyn to distract him from the case, nor will he taint her with his war-darkened soul. She seems to see past the barriers surrounding his heart, which makes her all the more dangerous to his vow of remaining forever alone.

Jocelyn will do anything to clear her father’s name, even if that means working with Grant. Time is running out. The future of England hangs in the balance…and so does their love.

Tour Giveaway

$10 Amazon eGift Card
2 ebooks of A Winter’s Knight
2 ebooks of Mistletoe Magic
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Ends December 19th

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