Thursday, 12 March 2015

Chimney sweeps and sooty warts!

Report from the Committee on Employment of Boys in Sweeping of Chimnies [sic] : together with the minutes of evidence taken before the Committee and an appendix.
House of Lords paper 16 Vol. XCI 1817

This report is  "to examine the several petitions which have been presented to the House against the employment of boys in sweeping chimnies."
The minutes are quite harrowing to read as they describe the treatment of the boys in this trade, the age of the children going up the chimneys can be as young as a four year old, the deformities, the diseases and the ill treatment are dreadful.  The following are some extracts from the minutes.
One of the questions from the minutes of evidence is “Had you any information how often they were washed, or if any care was taken that they should be washed, by those persons who were not considered as respectable masters? – We found that among the less respectable class of chimney sweepers the boys were taken to the New River of a Sunday morning in the summer season. “
The same question was asked about the winter months the answer was “we had reason to fear there was not, and which would account for the disorders generated by remaining longer that the week in their filthy garments.”  The main disorder was a cancer that affected the scrotum, known as sooty warts!
One respectable chimney master states that in cold weather they do let the boys wash in warm water.
The chimney sweeps would have sores, bruises, wounds and burns on their thighs and knees and “sometimes they get burnt by chimnes partly on fire”.  If a boy is unwilling to go up a chimney the masters will use a rod or the threat of being sent back to their home. They use pins in the feet to force the boy up the chimney. Apparently they don’t light straw under them to encourage them to go up the chimney, although one person has heard of a case that they do.  They have deformities of the spine, legs and arms and once they have grown too big for the job they are cast out without being taught a trade or having any other means to make a living.