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It was understood even in the Georgian period of our history that chimneys had to be brush cleaned. Way back to the 17th century the Master Sweep of the day would employ small boys to climb and scramble up chimneys. The task for these climbing boys was to brush clean the inside of the flue with small hand-held brushes. They also used metal scrapers to remove the harder tar deposits left by wood or log fire smoke.

The boys were apprentices and were bound to the trade as young as seven years old. A Master was paid a fee to clothe, keep and teach the child his trade. Sweeps' Boys were usually parish children or orphans, though others were sold into the trade by their families. Some grew up to be Journeymen (assistants to the Master), the remainder were put out to various trades to try to learn a new occupation.

     
In London there was a London Society of Master Sweeps with its own set of rules, one of which included that boys were not required to work on Sundays but had to attend Sunday School to study, learn and read the Bible. However, conditions for the boys were harsh and often cruel.
 
They slept in cellars on bags of soot and were seldom washed. Years of accumulated soot and grime often produced cancer of the testicles. It was a dangerous and filthy job for the boys to undertake, especially without the protection of safety clothing and respirators. Sadly there are recorded instances where these Climbing Boys choked and suffocated to death by dust inhalation whilst attempting to clean chimneys. Casualties were also frequent as boys became stuck in narrow flues or fell from climbing rotten chimney stacks.
     

It took many years and campaigns before Acts of Parliament finally approved by the House of Lords outlawed the use of Climbing Boys. In 1864 Lord Shaftesbury brought in the "Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers" which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. In the early part of the 18th century various types of chimney cleaning methods were being developed. An engineer from Bristol, Mr. Joseph Glass, is widely recognised as the inventor of chimney cleaning equipment, which has become universal even to this day. This was the design and introduction of canes and brushes, which could be pushed and propelled up from the fireplace into the chimney above. Early canes were made of malacca and imported from the East Indies. Brushes were made of whale bones, no nylon or polypropylene.

     

With the Industrial Revolution and ever greater demand for coal production, chimney sweeps grew in numbers. In Victorian London there were over 1,000 chimney sweeps serving the metropolis. The continued expansion of coal as the main fuel for domestic heating ensured that the sweeping trade flourished. This was right up to the early 1960s when gas began to be installed and replace coal as a source of domestic heating. The switch to gas continued in the seventies and many of the old established family sweeps retired or gave up the business. Until this period, sweeps had traditionally cleaned only coal, wood and oil chimneys.

     

Public awareness of the need for clean, safe and clear chimneys was almost non-existent. Carbon monoxide poisonings from blocked chimneys began to be noticed. The National Association of Chimney Sweeps was founded in 1982 with an initial membership of only 30 members. NACS is still to this day, the first National body ever to represent chimney sweeps throughout the United Kingdom. Membership has now increased to over 240 members and continues to grow. The Association has campaigned for regular chimney cleaning of flues serving all fuels (coal, wood, oil and gas) to both the trade and public. In particular, NACS has certainly contributed to the increased awareness and need to have gas chimneys cleaned.