Chimney SweeperbyWilliam BlakeThe ChimneySweeper" is the title oftwo poems by WilliamBlake, published inSongs of Innocence in1789 and Songs ofExperience in 1794
Address a political issue publicized during the time he was writing. •Sweepers were viewed as subhuman by many.
Written to protest the living conditions, working conditions, and the overall treatment of young chimney sweeps in the cities of England. In 1788, there was an attempt to pass an act to improve the treatment and working conditions of these young children. This would have made many people, including Blake, aware of the lives that these chimney sweeps would live.
Master Sweeps would buyyoung children fromorphanages and take in younghomeless children from thestreets and turn them intoindentured servants.Small boys between the ages of5 and 10, although most wereunder the age of seven, andsome were even as young asfour.
Sweep the chimneys naked so their masters would not have to replace clothing that would have been ruined in the chimneys, and they were rarely bathed. Children slept in cellars on bags of the soot that they had swept and they were poorly fed and clothed.
Many killed by fires in chimneys or died early anyway of either respiratory problems or cancer. Left children with ankles and spines deformed and twisted kneecaps from climbing up chimneys that were about nine inches in diameter.
Weren’t done until their heads poked out of the chimney top. Because the chimneys were extremely narrow, many of the children were reluctant to wriggle into them. It was a common practice for the master sweep or his assistant to actually light a small fire in the fireplace or hold lighted straw under their feet or even poke and prod the children with pins to force them up to the top.
Twisted spines and kneecaps, deformed ankles, eye inflammations and respiratory illnesses. Many also suffered from the first known industrial disease ‘chimney sweep’s cancer’ caused by the constant irritation of coal tar soot on the naked skin. Climbing boys choked and suffocated to death from inhaling the chimney dust or from getting stuck in the narrow and convoluted chimney flues. Casualties were also frequent as many boys were maimed or killed from falling or from being badly burned.
Often slept in cellars on bags of soot and used emptied soot bags as blankets. Sickly, rarely bathed and begged for handouts of food and clothing from their customers as all the money they earned went to their masters