Chimney Sweeps

Image Source: Victorian Children

The Chimney Sweeper: When my mother died I was very young
By William Blake
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

Facts on Chimney Sweepers:

  • Children would stop working as chimney sweepers at age 9 or 10
  • Major fears: lung damage caused by smoke inhalation, children getting stuck in chimneys, physical harm
  • There were laws against the use of children as chimney sweeps. These laws had to be enforced as new laws were enacted.
    • Chimney Sweepers Act of 1788: Children cannot work as chimney sweeps under the age of 8.
    • The Chimney Sweepers and Chimney Regulation Act of 1840: It is not legal for a person under the age of 21 to climb up or into the chimney for the purpose of cleaning.
    • Chimney Sweepers Act of 1875: All chimney sweeps had to be registered with and supervised by the police.