Chimney sweeping has come a long way since it first came about in the 17th century. The modern-day chimney sweeper looks a lot different to what most people would imagine (think Dick Van Dyke’s charming character in Mary Poppins). Chimney sweeping is an old profession that still holds strong today.
So how did it originate and how has chimney sweeping progressed throughout the years?
The Beginning of Chimney Sweeping
Chimneys first became popular in the 16th century as a smart solution to rid homes of smoke generated by fires. People loved having warm homes, so the popularity of fireplaces grew massively. Families would request multiple fireplaces to be installed in their homes, and therefore multiple chimneys to be added. It was at this time that hearth tax was introduced, and tax was calculated by the number of chimneys in a home. This led to the creation of complex tunnel systems between fireplaces, so that only one chimney was required, thus reducing tax burden.
It was during this same time period that the use of coal grew in popularity and began to replace wood as a fuel source. Coal creates sticky soot, which is difficult to clean with a chimney sweep brush and therefore needed to be scraped off in the areas where soot built up. It became evident that chimney sweeping would be required, as a house full of soot and fumes is unhealthy.
It’s interesting to know that chimneys, early on, were swept for free. This was because the sweepers could sell the soot to farmers and gardeners as soil fertiliser. Chimney sweeps could also compress soot into bricks using special boxes, and then sell it for additional income.
The Industrial Revolution created a huge demand for chimney sweeps due to the widespread use of coal as a heating fuel. It was said that because the air was so bad, Queen Victoria ordered all chimneys to be swept regularly. Therefore trade was booming during this time right up until the 1960s, where a switch was made to a more convenient method of central heating – gas and electricity.
Modern Day Chimney Sweeping
With coal being replaced as the primary method of central heating, the chimney sweeping profession began to die down. However, with fossil heating fuel prices soaring due to the two oil crises in the 1970s, many people decided to go back to using fireplaces as a heating source.
This proved to be very dangerous however. The fireplaces being used had not been cleaned or serviced in a very long time, and many fireplaces were blocked. This led to a series of house fires, as well as carbon monoxide poisonings.
Over the years, fireplaces have steadily become more and more popular and are no longer just a decorative element of a property. And as their popularity increased, so has the need for fireplace maintenance.