Guest author: Robbie Cheadle ~ Climbing boys

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.

The climbing boys were apprenticed to a master sweep who was paid by the parish to teach the orphans or paupers the craft of chimney sweeping. The boys signed papers of indenture, in front of a magistrate, which bound them to the master sweep until they were adults.

Climbing boys in literature

Charles Dickens featured a particularly horrible master sweep called Gamfield in his book Oliver Twist. Gamfields wants to take Oliver as an apprentice but, at the last minute, the magistrate refuses of sanction the apprenticeship as “Mr Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation of having bruised three or four boys to death already.”

“The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby,” written by The Reverend Charles, was published in 1863 and told the story of a young chimney sweep, Tom, who finds redemption from the horrors of his work by becoming a water baby. Kingsley was appalled by the social conditions during the Victorian era and he wrote this book to draw attention to the horrific fate of climbing boys.

Earlier, in the late 1700s, William Blake wrote poetic depictions of the lives of climbing boys which were published in two books of poetry, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

Here are the first two stanza’s of 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.”

What do climbing boys have to do with my writing

My story An Eye for an Eye, that is one of three of my stories that features in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery short stories, features climbing boys who are apprenticed to a vicious female master sweep called Mother Abigail. This supernatural murder story illustrates the terrible plight of climbing boys during that period in history and the possible repercussions of such abuse.

About Death Among US

Who knew death could be so eclectic? Relish this mesmerizing murder mystery mash-up of short stories.

Murder and mystery have been the staple of literature and films for years. This anthology of short stories will thrill and entertain you. Some will also make you laugh out loud. Others will stop and make you think.

Think of this murder mystery short story anthology as a book version of appetisers or starters, hors d’oeuvre, meze, or antipasti. It can be read as fillers between books or, as is the case in some countries, as a bookish meze – in its own right.

These stories come from an international cast of authors; some with bestselling books, others are emerging or new talents. Their roots, cultures, and life experiences are as diverse as their writing styles.

But one thing binds them together: they know how to tell a story.

The ten authors who have contributed to the anthology are:

Stephen Bentley, Greg Alldredge, Kelly Artieri, Robbie Cheadle, Michael Spinelli, Lee Kane, Kay Castaneda, Aly Locatelli, Justin Bauer, Posthumously by ‘G’

The stories include the 2019 SIA Award-Winning Murder Mystery Short Story ‘The Rose Slayer’ by Stephen Bentley.

Each author introduces his or her stories and the theme that lays behind them. By the time you finish the book, you will agree the result is a mesmerising murder mystery mash-up.

Click HERE to pre-order Death Among Us on Amazon

About the author

Robbie, short for Roberta, is an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about her mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with her mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton).

All of Robbie’s children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications. Robbie has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differentiate her children’s books from her adult writing, these will be published under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Robbie has two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

Find and follow Roberta Eaton

Roberta Writes Blog     Twitter    Facebook

While the Bombs Fell

TSL Publications     Lulu

What was it like for children growing up in rural Suffolk during World War 2?

Elsie and her family live in a small double-storey cottage in Bungay, Suffolk. Every night she lies awake listening anxiously for the sound of the German bomber planes. Often they come and the air raid siren sounds signalling that the family must leave their beds and venture out to the air raid shelter in the garden.

Despite the war raging across the English channel, daily life continues with its highlights, such as Christmas and the traditional Boxing Day fox hunt, and its wary moments when Elsie learns the stories of Jack Frost and the ghostly and terrifying Black Shuck that haunts the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.

Includes some authentic World War 2 recipes.

Robbie also writes as Robbie  Cheadle

Robbie’s Inspiration Blog      Goodreads    Facebook    YouTube

Amazon author page   Twitter: @bakeandwrite

Books by Robbie and Michael Cheadle

The Sir Chocolate books are a delightful marriage of story, verse and cookery

… a perfect recipe for sharing with children.  Silly Willy goes to Cape Town tells the adventures of two very different brothers…and includes five party cake ideas.

You can purchase the Sir Chocolate books from:

Amazon    TSL Books

or you can buy them in South Africa directly from the authors by emailing Robbie Cheadle at

Tell me a story…

If you are a writer, artist or photographer…If you have a poem, story or memoirs to share… If you have a book to promote, a character to introduce, an exhibition or event to publicise… If you have advice for writers, artists or bloggers…

If you would like to be my guest, please read the guidelines and get in touch!


About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in Guest post and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Guest author: Robbie Cheadle ~ Climbing boys

  1. Those poor little Victorian climbing boys. How harsh life was back then.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Darlene says:

    Robbie has done some excellent research on chimney sweeps, poor boys. It is hard to fathom such horrible working and living conditions, especially for children. I have preordered the book.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. joylennick says:

    Thanks, Sue. What a talented young woman Robbie is! She can make a book and eat it….so to speak. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fascinating post and history lesson, Robbie… Stories that need to be told. A great intro to the collection as well. Kudos!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Robbie, you are such an inspiration to writers everywhere and the enjoyment of readers everywhere! Good on you.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ritu says:

    So fascinating 😁 I love reading about these first of things. Those poor little boys !

    Liked by 2 people

  7. memadtwo says:

    I always enjoy the way Robbie combines fact with fiction so seamlessly. We need to be reminded, and keep our eyes open to similar conditions that still exist. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much, Sue, for featuring this post. I will be back tomorrow to share. Hugs to you and Ani.


  9. I’d never heard of this, Robbie- how sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I had forgotten about Ganfield in Oliver Twist. Thanks for the history, robbie and the guest post. I look forward to reading the collection. Best wishes – Kevin

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I had no idea about the Climbing Boys. How awful! Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. johnrieber says:

    Robbie’s book are terrific, and this is a great story to share….

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Frank Prem says:

    This is a great post, Robbie and Sue. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Great guest post, Robbie. Of course, as editor and a contributor to Death Among Us, I was privileged to read your excellent stories first.

    It may be of interest to readers of this post to take a peek at a Goodreads advanced review of this anthology. It may be found here:

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I first saw the chimney sweep boy in the movie Mary Poppins. I didn’t know such abuse as having young boys of 3 years old doing the job. What a terrible thing to do.

    I enjoyed reading this post. Robbie and Sue!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Pingback: Guest author: Robbie Cheadle – Climbing boys – Roberta Writes

  17. Very cool! Had to come over and read about all this research.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Mae Clair says:

    So sad and tragic how hard life was for children in the Victorian age.
    Your research is awesome, Robbie!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Robbie Cheadle is the guest of Sue Vincent with a chilling true account of the plight of the Climbing Boys of Victorian England.. often as young as 3 years old they had an appalling life and were victims of many diseases including cancer.. Not a great time in our history for many… fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    Thanks for the lesson, Robbie. (Thank you, Sue) I had never heard of this until your post. Thank goodness that there are more laws to protect children now.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Never heared or read before. What a very interesting story, even awful. Seems children in what century ever the abused ones. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  22. dgkaye says:

    Great research Robbie. Your story is riveting. I look forward to reading. I’ve pre-ordered ❤ Thanks Sue ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  23. jjspina says:

    How tragic for those poor boys. My heart breaks for them. An interesting collection of stories too. Thanks for the post, Sue! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  24. olganm says:

    Poor children had terrible lives in the Victorian era. They worked in mines, in factories, doing jobs that adults could not do due to size, and it’s no surprise the high mortality rate. Robbie’s story sounds fascinating, and it’s a topic we must keep in mind, as child cruelty is far from over. Thanks for sharing this great post, Sue.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. amreade says:

    It’s unbelievable how horribly poor young children were treated back then. I’m sure there will come a day when our descendants say similar things about our ways.

    I’ve preordered the book and I’m eagerly awaiting it!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Congrats on your coming book – I will admit, I have nightmares when confronted with this type of disregard for children and the way their innocence was spoiled way way too early. Your writing continues to entice us with its depth into the human elements of grief, history, the supernatural, and under it all, love.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Wonderful concept, Robbie. Best of luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.