You could be forgiven for thinking that with the advances in modern heating technology, the chimney sweep would be a thing of the past. In reality, a chimney sweep is more important today than the have ever been, but why?
Quite simply, the gases that can build up to a fatal level in your home are probably more dangerous today than they were in Victorian times. This is because an old Victorian home would not have double or triple glazing to keep the chill out and generally, modern housing is more of a sealed environment than properties in the past that could have allowed a potentially deadly build up of carbon monoxide to vent out of the property.
Over the years as the population grew, the number of houses with chimneys grew and the chimney sweep became a much sought after service provider. Buildings were higher and the new chimneys tops were grouped together and the routes of flues from individual grates could involve two or more right angles and horizontal angled and vertical sections. The flues were made narrow to create a better draught. In fact some historic buildings have multiple angles, with the flue narrowing to 9in by 9in. Chimney sweeping was also one of the more difficult, hazardous, and low paying occupations of the time. The first mechanical sweeping machine was invented in 1803 but its use was resisted in the United Kingdom. John Glass is credited with being the inventor of the modern chimney sweeps brush.
Chimneys started to appear in the UK in around 1200, when they replaced the open fire burning in the middle of a one room dwelling. At first there would be one heated room in the building and chimneys would be of a good size. Over the next 3 or 4 hundred years, more rooms were added to dwellings for specific uses and thus became smaller, many of these rooms were heated. Sea coal started to replace wood, and it deposited a layer of flammable creosote on the inside surface of the chimney flue, and caked it with soot. Whereas before, the chimney was a vent for the smoke, now it was needed to draw the fire and this required narrower flues. Chimney sweeps boys rarely climbed chimneys before the Great Fire of London, when building regulations were put in place and the design of chimneys was altered.
The new chimneys were often angular and narrow, and the usual dimension of the flue in domestic properties was 9 inches by 14 inches. The master sweep couldn't climb into such a small space himself and so he would employ climbing boys to go up the chimneys to dislodge the soot. The boys often climbed in the nude, propelling themselves by their knees and elbows, often causing rather nasty scrapes and abrasions. They were often put up hot chimneys, and sometimes up chimneys that were alight in order to extinguish a fire further up the flue. Chimneys with sharp angles posed a particular threat. These boys were apprenticed to the sweep, and from 1778 until 1875 a series of laws attempted to regulate their working conditions, and many first hand accounts were documented and published in parliamentary reports. From 1803, there was an mechanical method of brushing chimneys, but sweeps and their clients didn't like the change, preferring climbing boys to the new sweeping machines. Compulsory education was established in 1870 by the Education Act 1870 but it was another five years before legislation was put in place to license Chimney Sweeps and finally prevent boys being sent up the chimneys.
Can you imagine any trade getting away with this kind of apprenticeship today? However back in the day there where no such things as health and safety legislation or trade unions to protect these young workers.
These poor climbing boys, and sometimes girls, were actually the master sweeps apprentices, who being an adult, was too large to fit into a chimney or flue. He would be paid by the parish to teach orphans or paupers the craft of chimney sweeping. They were completely reliant on their master, they or their guardians had signed Papers of Indenture, in front of a magistrate, which bound them to him until they were adults. It was the duty of the Poor Law guardians to apprentice as many children of the workhouse in their care as possible, so as to reduce costs to the parish.
The master sweep had several duties to his apprentices, these were to teach the craft of chimney sweeping, to have the child cleaned once a week, to provide the apprentice with a second suit of clothes, to allowthe child to attend church and not send the child up chimneys that were on fire.
An apprentice sweep agreed to obey the master sweep. On completion of his seven year long apprenticeship, he would become a journeyman sweep, and would continue to work for a master sweep of his choice. Other apprentices were sold on to the sweep, or sold by their parents. Prices ranged from 7 shillings to 4 guineas. A Victorian type youth opportunities scheme if you will!
As mentioned earlier, chimneys can still be a hazardous part of any home if not maintained on a regular basis.
We tend to associate the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning with gas appliances such as ovens and modern fires. However, a solid fuel stove or an open fire can still pose a very serious threat to your health.
If you think that an open fire or a solid fuel stove could not put you in any danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, think again!
Blocked chimneys or flues will allow carbon monoxide to seep back into your home and seriously affect your health, a serious build up of this gas could even kill you. People think that it wouldn't happen to them because they would smell any unusual build up of gas if the chimney was blocked, but sadly there is no odour and you may just fall asleep, never to awake.
Carbon monoxide build up can be caused by open fires, stoves or oil boilers with chimneys or flues if they haven't been swept for long periods of time, have not been swept properly, have cracks or are damaged in some other way, they may have been incorrectly fitted or have simply become blocked.
A badly fitted chimney pot will also cause back pressure and lead to very harmful fume emissions coming back into your room.
So as you can see, the services of a good chimney sweep are needed more than ever and with the information available as to the dangers of a blocked chimney, there is even less of an excuse not to keep your chimney clean and clear of dangerous deposits.
If you would like to know more or are interested in a quote we would be happy to help. Phone us on 01923 661 614, email us at email@example.com or fill in our enquiry form and we will be in touch as soon as possible.
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m. 07941 282 325
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