Chimney Sweeping History: How It All Began
When Dave and Sharon Lamb founded Northeastern Chimney in 1984, it was following a centuries-old tradition of exceptional fireplace care. In years gone by, those in the fireplace industry were known collectively as “chimney sweeps.” Today, chimney sweeping history is an industry that can trace its roots back to the 16th century.
13th or 16th century?
It’s believed that chimneys were used by Italians during the 13th century. Does this mean that they, too, had a process for cleaning a chimney utilizing the services of a sweep? History isn’t clear on that. What is known is that by the 16th century, fireplaces and chimneys exploded in popularity.
Victorian England and chimney sweeps
In the 18th century, it’s believed that an inventor named Joseph Glass created chimney canes and brushes. This was a result of two factors: a hearth tax and the advent of chimneys and fireplaces within working-class homes. Often to save money, a builder would interconnect multiple fireplaces within a home into a single flue pipe. This led to a complex labyrinth of a fireplace system, which meant that chimney sweeps would be in higher demand.
In the novel Oliver Twist, Oliver is to be apprenticed to a chimney sweep named Mr. Gamfield. Charles Dickens highlights this profession not out of disdain or a lack of need for the trade. Rather, worker protections were few and far between in Victorian England. Ever focused on societal inequality, Dickens includes Oliver’s fear of becoming a bound sweep because of the danger that followed. Often, children were used as sweeps due to their smaller size.
For a frame of reference, Dickens published Oliver Twist in 1838. Parliament made it illegal to use children in this manner almost 30 years later via the Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers.
Industrialization and chimney sweeping history
Around this time, society was changing. The population explosion and easier access to coal meant that more and more homes began to utilize chimneys and fireplaces. Routine fireplace and chimney cleanings became commonplace and the industry saw rapid expansion. This lasted until approximately the 1960s with a switch to traditional HVAC systems.
Chimney sweeps in the 20th century
Whether you’re into musicals or not, most of us have at least heard of the movie Mary Poppins. In that classic 1964 film, the comedian Dick Van Dyke plays the role of a chimney sweep.
Ironically, it was around this time many U.S. homes began switching to HVAC systems and switching away from wood or coal-burning heating sources. Chimney sweeping saw a sharp decline until the 1980s when fireplaces became more of an ambiance-based feature.
Chimney sweeping today
While few fireplaces are used as the primary heating source for a home today, they’re still very much in use. A fireplace creates a cozy, inviting atmosphere — especially around the holidays and colder winter months.
This also means that they should continue to be swept and inspected annually. Is it time for your next sweep? Then call Northeastern Chimney LLC today at 860-233-5770 or send us a request for more info via our contact form online.