Tag Archives: climbing boys

Death of a Climbing Boy: 1827

Climbing boys of a later date looking unnaturally clean.

Climbing boys of a later date, perhaps scrubbed for the camera.


The following are brief particulars of an inquest held before Mr. Stocks, at Thornton, on Wednesday, the 4th instant, on the body of a boy, named Jonathan Banks, in the service of James Holgate, of Leeds, chimney-sweeper. So considerable a body of evidence was produced, that it was found necessary to adjourn the inquest until the following day, when the inquiry was resumed, and did not terminate until a late hour in the evening. The deceased was employed to sweep the chimney of Joseph Knowles, of Thornton, wool-comber, about ten o’clock in the forenoon of Tuesday last, and went up very cheerfully, but from some cause or other (he himself alleged from having lost his brush) he durst not come down. Finding this, Holgate twice sent up another boy, whom he told he would be down soon enough, and then got higher up, to prevent the boy taking hold of him. He was not fast, but merely stupid. This so enraged Holgate, that he swore he would cut him in pieces, and that when he came down he would give him his dinner; he also used several other similar expressions. Holgate then lighted a fire, to bring him down, which had not the desired effect, and he at length sent up another boy, with a rope, which he fastened to the leg of the deceased, and with which Holgate pulled him down about two yards, and then fastened the rope to the bars of the fire grate to prevent his ascending again Shortly after this, Holgate went up to the deceased himself, and stayed with him about five minutes, and, when he came down, he said he had nipped him and felt his feet, and thought he was dying. He then shortly after went up again, and untied the rope, and on his return said he was dead enough. The chimney was then pulled down, and the deceased taken out quite dead. That part of the chimney in which he was found was only one foot by ten inches. When taken out it was three o’clock in the afternoon. The body, chest, and head of the deceased were opened by Dr. Outhwaite and Messrs. Sharp and Trotter, of Bradford, surgeons, who found considerable fulness  of blood in the vessels of the head, in all probability arising from suffocation; and on the head and body of the deceased several bruises, but none of which bruises were, in the opinion of the medical gentlemen, quite sufficient to occasion death. The Jury returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against Holgate and he was committed, on the Coroner’s warrant, to York Castle. Leeds Mercury.

New Times [London, Middlesex] 10 July 1827: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-Memoire:  The cruelty of master-sweeps towards climbing boys was notorious. See this chapter from Climbing Boys by K.H. Strange for a dreadful look at the trade and its many horrific instances of injury, disease, and death. Despite the matter-of-fact horrors of inquest findings like the one above, It was not until 1875 that legislation was passed in Britain that authorized the police to enforce the laws regarding apprentice chimney sweeps. The popular children’s book, The Water Babies, published in 1863has a boy sweep, Tom, as its principal character. One of the book’s themes is the evils of child labour and it was said to have influenced legislation about apprentice sweeps.