A (Very Brief) History of Chimney Sweeping and Why It’s More Important than Ever

Mary Poppins

Have you ever seen Mary Poppins?

Remember Bert the chimney sweep?

He was a happy-go-lucky fellow perpetually covered in soot and singing “Chim Chim Cher-ee” along the rooftops with his chimney sweep friends.

Hundreds of years ago, chimney sweeping was an honorable and noble service that only the wealthy could afford.

Today, chimney sweeping is something Stamford Fireplaces is pleased to offer wood fireplace owners all over our service area.

In the beginning…

The practice of chimney sweeping first began in the United Kingdom (UK) around the 1500s, but it really took off in the mid-1700s.

Sweep Boy

Here’s why:

  • Dawn of the industrial revolution in the UK
  • Coal (used in fireplaces at the time) was growing in production, popularity, and demand
  • More “average folk” were installing fireplaces in their homes

Now, the early days of chimney sweeping weren’t safe when you consider that:

  • Boys as young as 4 had to climb down chimney flues (when their masters could no longer fit)
  • It was not uncommon for people to get stuck inside the flues and actually die inside them
  • Flues could be as narrow as 81 square inches

One more thing: Working in a chimney flue was so hot and uncomfortable, chimney sweeps sometimes worked in the nude.

Chimney sweeping begins to evolve…

Fast-forward to 1828, where the idea of using children for chimney sweeping services was longer tolerated.

Chimney sweep icon

The problem: There was no better alternative.

That’s when an inventor named Joseph Glass (who was opposed to child chimney sweeps) developed a chimney sweeping machine which eliminated the need for anyone to climb inside a chimney.

Shortly thereafter, laws were introduced to regulate the chimney sweeping industry:

  • 1840 (Chimney Sweepers and Chimney Regulation Act): This banned child chimney sweeps. Sadly, it went ignored.
  • 1864 (Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act): Stiffer penalties were sanctioned against anyone using children for chimney sweeping. Sadly, it went ignored.
  • 1875 (Chimney Sweepers Act): All chimney sweeps had to register with the police. In turn, the police supervised sweeps while they worked. The constant police presence finally put an end to child chimney sweeps.

Because children could no longer be employed as chimney sweeps, it was up to the masters to develop equipment and techniques to do their job…especially since they could not fit inside.

Chimney sweeping becomes less popular…

Gas fireplaces and electric fireplaces started to gain popularity in the 1960s, which led to a downturn in the chimney sweeping industry.

However, chimney sweeping enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s, due to global oil crises which targeted countries like:

  • Canada
  • UK
  • United States
  • Japan
  • The Netherlands

As the price of oil and gas skyrocketed, people turned to solid fuels (coal and wood) to heat their fireplaces.

This meant chimney sweeps were once again needed to clean fireplaces and remove harmful creosote and other debris.

Chimney sweeping today…

Chimney sweep modern

Today’s chimney sweeps – just like their traditional counterparts from over 100 years ago – still have to climb onto rooftops in order to do their job.

But that’s about all that’s the same.

They have access to modern tools to help them safely and thoroughly clean chimneys:

  • Vacuum systems
  • Video cameras
  • Sturdy wire brushes
  • Telescopic handles which allow them to navigate tricky flue
  • Chemical agents to dissolve stubborn creosote and soot deposits

Why should you have your chimney swept?

At least once a year, your chimney should be cleaned and inspected for things like:


  • Creosote: A by-product of unburned fuel, creosote is a combustible material which can lead to chimney fires if it’s not removed from time-to-time.
  • Air flow: If your chimney is blocked by creosote or other debris, heat and carbon monoxide can’t escape. Those dangerous exhaust gases will instead build up inside your flue and into rooms in your house.
  • Animals: Birds, bats, raccoons, and other critters might think your chimney makes for a good home. There’s a strong possibility they might end up moving in with you inside your home.

Schedule your chimney sweeping service

In the olden days, chimney sweeps would wander the streets yelling “Soot –Oh, Sweep”, which let people know they were in the neighbourhood.

Today, all you have to do is contact us to book your chimney sweeping appointment.

Contact us