Chimneys date back to around the 13th century, but the chimney sweep profession originated around the 16th century in England. The spread of chimneys across homes to multiple rooms coincided with a lofty hearty tax which was based on the size of the home and the number of fireplaces and chimneys included. As a result, builders would connect new flues to a single chimney to mitigate the overall tax. This yielded a connection of narrow tunnels, elevating the potential for fire and threatening the safety of the home.
At the same time coal was gaining in popularity. Since coal left behind more soot than wood and created toxic fumes, there was a need for the chimneys to be cleaned with increasing frequency. Regular cleanings soon became a mandated requirement by Queen Victoria.
Given the narrow dimensions of chimneys, young children – often just five to fourteen years old — were frequently used to get inside of the chimney flue and clean the residue and buildup. The harrowing tales were encapsulated in William Blake’s poem, “The Chimney Sweeper”, published in the late 18th century.
As a result, the Chimney Sweepers and Chimney Regulations Act of 1788 was passed,. This was followed by the Chimney Sweeps Act of 1834 to stop child labor of any person below the age of 14. The age was raised in 1840 to 16. Finally, in 1875, parliament passed the Chimney Boys act in 1875, which required registration and supervision of all chimney sweeps with the police.
Canes and brushes were subsequently invented by Joseph Glass to more securely clean chimneys.
Today’s professional chimney sweeps are far more evolved, with trained, educated professionals carrying an understanding of chimney and fireplace dynamics, ventilation, and associated building codes. Modern chimney sweeps often include chimney repairs, fireplaces installation, and hearth repairs to ensure safe and controlled usage of every kind of hearth and venting system utilized in contemporary dwellings.