(615) 459-2546 office@ashbusters.net

If you’ve seen the well-loved classic Mary Poppins (and let’s face it…who hasn’t?), you’re likely familiar with chimney sweeping “methods” and portrayal of old: a cheery bunch of blokes all covered in soot leaping, singing, and high-stepping across the rooftops of London, humorously popping in and out of chimney stacks as they go. 

But, aside from the movie’s fun and fantastical creative liberties, the actual history of chimney sweep services – and those who performed them – is much darker. Keep reading to learn more about the origins of this important, yet frequently overlooked, practice…and appreciate just how far we’ve come in the industry.

Are you a homeowner in the Nashville area looking to schedule a sweeping for your chimney? Give the trusted pros here at Ashbusters a call at 615-459-2546, or fill out this contact form.

original infographic showing a timeline of chimney sweep history

Who Were the First Chimney Sweeps?

Historically reserved for the wealthiest families, it wasn’t until the 17th century that chimneys became a mainstay in all homes throughout the UK. And as the structure grew in popularity, the British government began to tax homeowners based on the number of chimneys utilized in their homes. In an effort to reduce that cost, rather than constructing multiple chimneys to ventilate multiple appliances, builders simply created an internal network of flue pipes. And while this might’ve been effective from a monetary perspective, it made cleaning these systems next to impossible.

Now more crucial than ever, chimney sweeps needed a way to not only reach these dark, labyrinthine mazes of flues, but effectively clear them of caked-on creosote and other debris. They needed little hands and little bodies that could fit into these tight spaces. And so, bartering food and shelter in exchange for dangerous labor, master chimney sweeps primarily utilized orphans to crawl through the complex venting systems.

Mostly boys between the ages of five and 11, these children were forced to scrape the inner walls of chimney flues – often getting stuck and dying, or suffering from various physical deformities and otherwise early deaths. 

In fact, the colloquial phrase used to hasten someone along – “to light a fire under them” – was born from this practice. If a child was hesitant to move further into the dark chimney flue, the master sweep would often threaten to start up the fireplace as motivation to pick up speed. Pretty dark, huh?

“They Tried to Clean the Flue With What?

It took awhile, but eventually the practice of utilizing small children to sweep chimneys was outlawed when the Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers passed through Parliament in 1864. This legislation was an amendment to the previously passed the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1834, which had simply required verbal consent from the boys and a minimum age of 14.

However, it wasn’t just children that were exploited for the much needed chimney sweeping service. Before the birth of the ergonomic, chimney-specific tools we see being used in today’s chimney sweeping (the first models of which were designed by inventor George Smart in 1803 and improved upon by another inventor, Joseph Glass, in 1828), people got creative with ways to brush off the accumulated creosote within their flue walls.

Homeowners experimented with just about everything they could find or think of to clean out their systems. Some of the most notable methods involved tying big boughs of holly to a rope that was dragged through the length of the structure or dropping a live goose or chicken from the top of the flue in the hopes that their flapping might dislodge debris deposits. 

All in all, both the ethics and effectiveness of these different methods are questionable across the board. Fortunately, chimney sweeping has come a long way since the 1600s. What was once a dangerously inhumane and filthy job is now a respected vocation – and does not involve the harming of any bird or child!

two brown chickens

What Does Chimney Sweeping Look Like Today?

Thanks to technological advancements and human invention and innovation, chimney sweeping in the 21st century is a simple, streamlined process. Technicians are trained with tools designed to perfectly compliment the size and shape of different flue pipes, regardless of appliance type or venting path. When we come out to clean your chimney, we make sure to tackle every twist and turn, nook and cranny, from your firebox floor to the top of your chimney cap, putting in that elbow grease to remove as much debris and other material as possible.

You also don’t have to worry about us leaving a dirty, sooty mess. At Ashbusters, your home’s cleanliness is of the utmost importance. We move nearby furniture, lay out tarps, and utilize a professional, high speed dust-collector to prevent your living room from being coated in ash. In conjunction with a vacuum that employs a triple-layer HEPA filter, you may find your space cleaner than you left it! 

Looking for a Chimney Sweep in Nashville? Call Ashbusters Today!

Thankfully, Nashville homeowners searching for a professional chimney cleaning need not grab the nearest chicken or small child. You simply have to get someone from Ashbusters on the phone and we’ll take it from there!

You can schedule an appointment by filling out this contact form through our website or by calling 615-459-2546.