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Songs about chimney climbing boys

GUEST,James 27 Jan 23 - 08:07 PM
Joe Offer 27 Jan 23 - 08:36 PM
The Doctor 28 Jan 23 - 05:46 AM
GUEST,Dan Themsan 28 Jan 23 - 08:50 AM
GUEST,James 28 Jan 23 - 11:20 AM
GUEST,Dan Themsan 28 Jan 23 - 12:27 PM
GeoffLawes 28 Jan 23 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,James 30 Jan 23 - 03:00 PM
GUEST,James 30 Jan 23 - 03:07 PM
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Subject: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,James
Date: 27 Jan 23 - 08:07 PM

I recently read in depth about the old practice of sending kids up red hot (and sometimes burning) chimneys and in all honesty it was one of the most horrific and disturbing things I've read about. We were always told as kids that children were once sent up chimneys to clean them, obviously basic education glosses over the gory details and now I'm aware that it was one of the most evil instances of child slavery in history. Anyway, it occurred to me that I've never heard mention of these kids in folk songs anywhere, which at first seems strange since there were quite large numbers of them and they had quite a unique experience of life (not in a good way, obviously). Could it be that the whole subject is just too horrific a topic for the songwriter's pen?


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Subject: ADD Poem: The Chimney Sweeper (Wm. Blake)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Jan 23 - 08:36 PM

Here's a fascinating article about Chimney Sweeps and Climbing Boys:

The article makes mention of the poem "The Chimney Sweep," written by poet William Blake in the 1780s.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chimney_Sweeper:

THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER
(William Blake)

"The Chimney Sweeper" (from Songs of Innocence, 1789)

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep.[a]
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lambs 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.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm,
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

"The Chimney Sweeper" (from Songs of Experience, 1794)

A little black thing among the snow:
Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to the church to pray.

Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil'd among the winters snow:
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

And because I am happy, & dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King
Who make up a heaven of our misery.


[a] The child's lisping attempt at the word "Sweep".

Analysis of William Blake's 'The Chimney Sweeper' (Both poems - Innocence and Experience): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDjrP5IItvE


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: The Doctor
Date: 28 Jan 23 - 05:46 AM

As an aside, Jack Hall, a real person, also known as Sam Hall - chimney sweep, chimney sweep, was sold to a chimney sweep by his parents, for a pound or thereabouts. But he quickly decided that being a thief was a much more profitable, and safer, profession, even if he did end up being hanged. While waiting in prison for his end he wrote a dictionary of cant and criminal slang, and now appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,Dan Themsan
Date: 28 Jan 23 - 08:50 AM

Thankyou,Doctor, Fascinating info.


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,James
Date: 28 Jan 23 - 11:20 AM

There's an old book from the 1800's called The Chimney Sweeper's Friend and Climbing Boy's Album that you can read on Google Books
and it contains some poetry (as well as a very harrowing section on accident case histories, and transcripts of parliamentary debates on banning the practice). I think that William Blake bit above might be from it. I might have a pop at finding a melody for it at some point. The tune from "The Blantyre Explosion" (as sung by the Ian Campbell Folk Group) immediately springs to mind as a possible fit.


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,Dan Themsan
Date: 28 Jan 23 - 12:27 PM

Why not write another tune using the same tempo as Blantyre explosion?


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GeoffLawes
Date: 28 Jan 23 - 06:58 PM


SWEEP! CHIMNEY SWEEP
7 August 1840 Britain bans the employment of climbing boys as chimney sweeps.

Mainly Norfolk song info:   
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5q-ZQgRMUI
Sweep, Chimney Sweep · Steeleye Span    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8fpF4Efle4
The Chimney Sweeper (words William Blake)- Greg Brown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJrCO153LdM


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,James
Date: 30 Jan 23 - 03:00 PM

Dan: I like the tune I guess, and is suitably melancholic.


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Subject: RE: Songs about chimney climbing boys
From: GUEST,James
Date: 30 Jan 23 - 03:07 PM

Geoff: I hadn't heard Sweep, Chimney Sweep before. I wonder what date it originates from, given that it doesn't have any mention of the kids which chimney sweeps never worked without after the advent of coal fires with the subsequent narrowing of flues. Again I'm wondering if songwriters found the subject too harrowing or macabre for a song. The kids often got stuck and suffocated to death, or burned alive in chimney fires (they were sometimes sent up burning chimneys with nothing but a damp cloth to try and put it out). I wonder if there was a common, unspoken shame about the whole practice, even as people accepted the sight of a boy disappearing up the flue when they had their chimney cleaned.


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