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image: Chimney SweepsOn 7 August 1840 an Act of Parliament prohibited the employment of children under 16 as chimney sweeps.

Chimney sweeping was a job children could do better than adults. More than one hundred years ago, small boys were employed to climb and scramble up chimneys. Their task was to brush clean the inside of the flue with small hand-held brushes.

Small boys (starting at the age of 5 or 6 years) would be sent scrambling up inside the chimney to scrape and brush soot away. They came down covered in soot, and with bleeding elbows and knees.

The chimneys were usually very narrow (in some cases as small as 30cm) and twisted. Children often got stuck or froze with terror in the cramped darkness - in these cases the Master Chimney Sweeper, would simply light the fire underneath to 'encourage' them to get on with their work.

The work was dangerous and painful. Some boys got stuck and died of suffocation.

"I never got stuck myself but some of my friends have and were taken out dead." boy aged 8

'The Water Babies' by Charles Kingsley, tells the tale of a young sweep, Tom. who drowns while trying to escape from his evil master and comes back to life underwater as a 'water baby'.

 

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