A Brief History of Chimney Sweeping

Many of us have an image of what a chimney sweep looks like; from Mary Poppins’ cheerful cockney sweeper Bert, to the vicious Victorian chimney sweep from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. It might seem like a strictly 19th century profession, but chimney sweeping has been around for hundreds of years, and continues to be a highly valuable job today.

Chimneys need to be swept regularly to remove the build up of creosote on the inside; if this isn’t done it can cause a health and safety hazard, as well as restricting the flow of your chimney. Chimney sweeping began in the 16th century, and it’s more widespread in today’s world than you might think.

If you’d like to know more about the evolution of chimney sweeping, see below for a brief guide.

The first chimney sweeps

It took until the 16th century in England for the use of chimneys and fireplaces to catch on, and before long many homes had a fireplace in each room for both cooking and warmth. The number of fireplaces in homes continued to grow into the 17th century, and the switch from wood to coal as fuel meant that chimneys had to be cleaned regularly.

Failure to clean coal and soot deposits meant that chimneys could become backed up, and harmful fumes could pollute the home, so chimney sweeps began to be in high demand. In 1828 inventor Joseph Glass created a series of canes and brushes which made the process much easier, and similar versions of his brushes are still used today.

Victorian child sweepers

In the past, chimney sweeping was a dangerous and cramped job, and orphaned children were often used to climb the narrow chimney flumes. Conditions were harsh, and the child sweeps often developed respiratory problems and other health conditions.

In 1840, a law known as the Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act was passed, forbidding anyone under the age of 21 from working as a chimney sweep. Further methods were also developed which meant the chimney could be cleaned from top to bottom without the need for someone to physically climb inside. These included an iron ball and rope system, and long canes and brushes to reach from the fireplace to the top of the chimney.

Chimney sweeping today

By the 1960s, gas and electricity had replaced coal and fireplaces as the heat source in many homes, although some people still use open fires for both decoration and warmth. Today’s chimney sweeps do much more than simply sweep the coal buildup, and many diagnose and repair any problems, install fireplaces, fix stoves and flues, and provide safety maintenance to heating appliances, fireplaces and chimneys.

If you’re in need of professional fireplace or chimney services, get in touch with the team at Fireplace Superstore. We have all the equipment and expertise needed to ensure your gas fireplace or stove is safe to use. We offer a full range of services, including chimney and flue cleaning, fireplace repair, safety inspections, gas connection and more, so give us a call today or visit our website.