Monday, March 11, 2019

Are there bodies of climbing boys in the chimneys of Westminster?

Embed from Getty Images

There was an extraordinary exchange on Westminster Hour when Meg Hillier was interviewed about the plans for a major renovation of the Palace of Westminster. (The item starts at the 50-minute mark.)

Hillier reminded us that the old pile was built in the days when chimneys were swept by sending small boys up them.

She then reported that she had heard rumours that the bodies of climbing boys may be found in the building when the work takes place.

I am not so sure.

Climbing boys certainly did die in their work - roasted alive or, more commonly, suffocated by soot. But I doubt that their bodies were left in the chimneys.

It would be impossible to use the fireplace below and then there is a more unpleasant reason...

Sweepy Stories tells us what happened in such circumstances:
Efforts were made through the years to put an end to the cruel practice of using child chimney sweeps, but they failed until 1875. The death of 12-year-old chimney sweep George Brewster became the catalyst which finally pushed through legislation that outlawed the cruel practice. 
George Brewster became stuck in one of the chimneys in Fulbourn Hospital. His master, William Wyer, had sent George into that situation. A wall had to be torn down to free George from his narrow prison.  He died a short time later. 
Wyer was charged and found guilty of manslaughter.  George Brewster was the last child chimney sweep in England to die in a chimney.
They will find all sorts of things when work begins at Westminster, but the bodies of climbing boys are unlikely be among them.

No comments: