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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Fight To Save Britain's Chimney Sweeps

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine looks at the battle to save Britain's tiny chimney sweeps. Our ancestors’ chimneys needed sweeping regularly. When soot from a fire accumulated inside a chimney, smoke blew back unpleasantly into people’s rooms instead of going up the chimney. If too much soot built up inside the flue, the chimney could catch fire.Some chimneys were only nine inches (22.5 cm) square, so children as young as 5 years old were used to climb them and clean them. 
Although reformer Jonas Hanway campaigned about the miserable lives of child sweeps in the 1780s, it took almost a century for parliament to enact legislation tough enough to stop the use of 'climbing boys'. My feature also has tips for researching your chimney sweep ancestors.
Image from the author's collection: A child sweep carrying the brushes for his trade, illustration by Emile Bayard for Holiday Keepsake, Gall & Inglis, c.1880.

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