Guest author: Robbie Cheadle – Climbing boys
I visited Sue Vincent at her lovely blog Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo with a post about the climbing boys of the Victorian era
About climbing boys
During the 1700s and 1800s, mainly male children often performed an occupation known as a climbing boy or chimney sweep. Many of the climbing boys were orphans, and in Great Britain many came from workhouses, and some were as young as 3 years old. As the child needed to be quite small to climb up the chimneys of the time, most climbing boys outgrew this occupation by the time they were nine or ten years old, although due to poor diet, some worked until they were as old as fourteen years.
The life of a climbing boys was dangerous as they climbed hot flues that could be a mere 7 inches square, although 14 inches by 9 inches was a common standard, and they could get jammed in the flue, suffocate or burn to death. The children developed raw, red skinless patches on their bodies from climbing up and down the stacks. These only went away when the climber developed calluses or the skin was hardened by their master applying an application of strong brine, which was placed on them in front of a hot fire.
The boys also frequently fell, and this resulted in deformed ankles, broken legs and twisted spines. Eye and respiratory problems also plagued climbing boys. The deadliest condition that affected climbing boys was called chimney sweeps’ carcinoma which was caused by the fact that soot is carcinogenic, and the boys slept under the soot sacks and were rarely washed. Chimney sweeps’ carcinoma is a cancer that results from squamous cells which form on the surface of the skin and the lining of hollow organs in the body and line the respiratory and digestive tracts. Warts on the skin of the scrotum, caused by the irritation from soot particles, developed into scrotal cancer which ultimately invaded the abdomen and killed the sufferer.
The climbing boys were apprenticed to a master sweep who was paid by the parish to teach the orphans or paupers the craft of chimney sweeping. The boys signed papers of indenture, in front of a magistrate, which bound them to the master sweep until they were adults.
You can continue reading this post here: https://scvincent.com/2019/06/24/guest-author-robbie-cheadle-climbing-boys/