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Death of a climbing boy, Glasgow, 1840

Climbing boys were the apprentices of chimney sweeps in the 19th century. Young boys were ideally suited to climb up the insides of chimneys because of their size. It was a dangeous job, which often resulted in accidents and deaths. Below an account of one boy in Glasgow, which comes from the evidence given to an enquiry into his death.

The boy was very ill clad having only a pair of trousers and a shirt on, and he had no jackety or shoes. That day was very cold and wet, and the boy who did not appear to exceed five or six years of age, was very weakly. There were forty-two vents to be cleared out and the boy went up one and down another until he had cleared out thirty seven of the vents. That the declarent during this time was stationed at the top of the chimney stalk, and when the boy was coming up the thirty eighth vent he delayed in it and Hughes who was at the top at the timecalled to him several times to come up and the boy always said 'I'm coming'. That the boy was about twenty minutes in the vent when Hughes began to threaten him and say if he did not come quickly he would take off his belt and thrash him. That it was about twenty minutes past four when the boy entered said vent, and the declarant is in the belief that he was ascending it and not descending said vent when the boy met with his death. That the boy at the end of twenty minutes or so, ceased to speak and Hughes and declarant went away to look for a rope to assist the boy by putting it down from the top. That they could not find one, and when they returned to the chimney top, they could get no answer from him when they spoke to the boy. That Hughes put off his jacket and tried to descend the chimney but it was too straight and he could only get down about two feet.

Source: Lord Advocate's Department Records: AD14/40/242 (Scottish Records Office)