Sweeping Down the Ages: A Brief History of Chimney Sweeps

 

there is known to have been Successful female Master Sweeps from as early as 1740.

This article will cover the following.

  • Women Chimney Sweeps throughout history

  • Children chimey sweeps and their working conditions

  • Women sweeps in the Modern day

 

April showers and spring sunshine all part of a very exciting ever changing month , especially for myself, my husband Tom and our 2 year old daughter Evelyn… all our family, friends, employees and sweep customers as everyone eagerly awaits the arrival of my second Baby due at the end of the month.

I am ever so fortunate to have a fantastic team of staff who are ready and more than capable of keeping the busy sweep business running smoothly while I take my maternity leave and some time off from sweep business.

This got me thinking about how working women, female chimney sweeps in particular have always managed both a working career & family life, both past & present.

Women Chimney Sweeps throughout history

People still see female chimney sweeps as quite a novel thing and an unusual profession, yet there is known to have been Successful female Master Sweeps from as early as 1740. There are many known 18th & 19th century women ‘Chimbley Sweper’s’. Some being entrepreneurial whilst others are reported to be widows taking on their former husbands sweeping business in order to keep their livelihood for themselves and their families.

Children chimey sweeps and their working conditions

The awful condition the Victorian climbing boys faced in the past has been well documented but it’s rarely mentioned that there were also climbing Girls subjected to the same dreadful working conditions, sold to a master sweep by their family’s or born into a family run business where there was a shortage of sons, or if the older brothers had outgrown the flue size, the younger & smaller framed daughters were brought in to replace them.

‘Out of a total of 5028 chimney sweeps in Britain in 1841, there were 127 female sweeps working in England and 4 in Scotland.’ (British chimney Sweeps, Benita Cullingford , 2000) I would be most interested to know the current day statistics.

If the older brothers had outgrown the flue size, the younger & smaller framed daughters were brought in to replace them.

As many of you may know already if you have read my previous diary entries employ our cheery receptionist lady Danielle and the lovely Val Sweep, Jayne Sweep and in the past have employed other ladies who have since moved on to other things, but all had enjoyed and excelled at their work as a sweep.

I had never intended to have an all-female team but that is just the way the business has evolved over the years and for some of our customers it is what makes them want to book their regular chimney sweeping service with us. When socialising in our non-sweeping clothing and people find out we are professional chimney sweeps they are usually most shocked, surprised and thoroughly interested in the how, what, when and why!  A conversation we are quite used to having.

I know of at least 2 other lady sweeps in my area and have heard of many others up and down the country, with some fantastic business names such as The Soot Fairy, Penny Poppins, and The Lady Sweep, A few of these lady’s back stories are similar to my own with having to make a drastic career change due to lack of work in our intended professions, redundancy or with some others working alongside their chimney sweeping husbands in the busy seasons.

Women sweeps in the Modern day

I for one am most pleased my career path worked out the way it did as I can’t think of a better job, and I know both Val sweep & Jayne sweep are far happier in their unusual line of work, than their former jobs. This makes for happy staff and in turn happy customers.

So for me with baby sweep due at any time, and we have chosen not to find out the sex of the baby, I now find myself wondering if we will be blessed with a little climbing Boy or climbing Girl? And what career choices may lay ahead for them? Already my little daughter Evelyn has taken a keen interest in anything chimney related and enjoys pointing out chimney pots to me when out and about.

"I for one am most pleased my career path worked out the way it did as I can’t think of a better job"And it is not uncommon for her to be found walking around the garden pulling along an old sweep brush (normally used for decorative purposes in our old garden chimney pots) As for the future careers choices of our children… who knows but they will be lucky enough to be fully supported in whatever path they chose and I am quite sure they will be very knowledgeable in all things chimney related from a reasonably early age. If they choose to join the family sweeping business that would be wonderful and luckily for them there is no chance of them been sold to a master sweep and forced to climb Victorian brick built chimneys from morning to night, a very real possibility for some children if they were born around 300 years earlier.

Taking place on Thursday the 23rd to Saturday the 25th of April is the annual National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS) Exhibition at Stratford upon Avon. I am saddened to be missing the trade show exhibition this year due to my obvious circumstances but I wish all my fellow NACS Members and everyone else within the industry who is going along a most enjoyable time and I am very much looking forward to attending in 2016. 

 

Read more from Katie Sweeps Diary https://www.fireplace.co.uk/chimney-sweep-diarist/59

 

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