Electricity and gas have come to replace fireplaces as the primary means for heating building interiors. If you’re lucky enough to have a house with a functioning fireplace, it’s important to stay up to date with chimney maintenance. Chimney cleaning Washington DC can help lower fire risks and minimize the unpleasant scent of creosote.
A Brief History of Chimney Sweeps
Chimneys did not become commonplace in Europe until the beginning of the 16th century. From the very start, cleaning chimneys presented a challenge because the structures were so very narrow. The only individuals small enough to fit into the constrained spaces so that coal dust and other debris could be scraped from the walls were children.
Chimney sweeps were most often boys who’d either been orphaned or sold into indentured servitude by their parents. These boys were generally between 5 and 10 years of age. It wasn’t until 1840 that Parliament passed a law in the U.K. putting an end to the use of child labor for sweeping chimneys.
Chimney Sweeps in Literature and Films
Perhaps the most famous chimney sweeps in literature are the two little boys celebrated in William Blake’s poetic cycles “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.” The poems were harshly critical of a hypocritical society that celebrated God’s mercy while subjecting children to such cruel conditions.
In the middle of the 19th century, Reverend Charles Kingsley wrote a novel called “The Water Babies.” This novel also explored the plight of the juvenile chimney sweeps, and its immense popularity may have been one of the factors behind the passage of The Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act in 1840, which made it illegal for anyone younger than 21 to clean chimneys in the U.K.
The Danish author Hans Christian Anderson wrote a fairy story about a chimney sweep although in his tale, the sweep was a porcelain figure. In the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers, Mary’s beau Bert is a chimney sweep. When the Walt Disney company produced the story as a movie, Bert’s song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” won an Oscar as the best movie song of 1965.