Guest author: Robbie Cheadle – Climbing boys

I have been over at Sue Vincent’s fascinating blog, Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo, with a post about climbing boys and my short story featuring them in the forthcoming murder mystery anthology, Death Among Us. Thank you, Sue, for having me over.

About climbing boys

During the 1700s and 1800s, mainly male children often performed an occupation known as a climbing boy or chimney sweep. Many of the climbing boys were orphans, and in Great Britain many came from workhouses, and some were as young as 3 years old. As the child needed to be quite small to climb up the chimneys of the time, most climbing boys outgrew this occupation by the time they were nine or ten years old, although due to poor diet, some worked until they were as old as fourteen years.

The life of a climbing boys was dangerous as they climbed hot flues that could be a mere 7 inches square, although 14 inches by 9 inches was a common standard, and they could get jammed in the flue, suffocate or burn to death. The children developed raw, red skinless patches on their bodies from climbing up and down the stacks. These only went away when the climber developed calluses or the skin was hardened by their master applying an application of strong brine, which was placed on them in front of a hot fire.

The boys also frequently fell, and this resulted in deformed ankles, broken legs and twisted spines. Eye and respiratory problems also plagued climbing boys. The deadliest condition that affected climbing boys was called chimney sweeps’ carcinoma which was caused by the fact that soot is carcinogenic, and the boys slept under the soot sacks and were rarely washed. Chimney sweeps’ carcinoma is a cancer that results from squamous cells which form on the surface of the skin and the lining of hollow organs in the body and line the respiratory and digestive tracts. Warts on the skin of the scrotum, caused by the irritation from soot particles, developed into scrotal cancer which ultimately invaded the abdomen and killed the sufferer.

You can read the rest of this article here: https://scvincent.com/2019/06/24/guest-author-robbie-cheadle-climbing-boys/

18 thoughts on “Guest author: Robbie Cheadle – Climbing boys

    1. They did have climbing boys in the US, Barbara, but it may not have been as well know there. Charles Dickens brought a lot of attention to the plight of the poor in England during the Victoria era with his books.

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      1. Hi Robbie – I’ve only read one Dickens book (A Tale of Two Cities – I thought that was fantastic). I don’t remember climbing boys in that one. I should probably read another of his books!

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      2. Hi Barbara, there were no climbing boys in A Tale of Two Cities. Oliver Twist features them briefly. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley also features the horrible life of these boys. Thanks for visiting me here.

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  1. Excellent research, Robbie, but what a sad way for these children to earn money. I’m familiar with chimney sweeps, but had never heard the term climbing boys.

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  2. I am familiar with Oliver Twist. I imagine to that orphan girls had different ill fated careers.
    History was not kind to those who have limited choices no mater what country they lived in.

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