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
While the Bombs Fell
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
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:
or you can buy them in South Africa directly from the authors by emailing Robbie Cheadle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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