| General Poetry
posted July 15, 2014
6 7 -8- 10...
Victorian child labour in the UK
A chapter in the book Share a Story in a Poem
The Chimney Sweep Boy
The Chimney Sweep Boy
By Sandra Stoner Mitchell
Toby sat up painfully and struggled out of bed,
his tiny body ached so bad; a drum beat in his head.
His tummy nagged him loudly for some food but there was none,
A crust of bread is all he'd have until this day was done.
His mother, in the scullery, called out to her young lad,
"Just make sure you're careful now...an' don't do nothing bad."
He weakly smiled and took his bread, turned round, and then was gone.
At six years old he looked so thin; how long could he go on?
Starting work at five o'clock, the sky was still pitch black,
he hardly got to see daylight while in the chimney stack.
Inside the flue he'd scrape and brush the sticky soot away,
he never knew what childhood was--he never got to play.
The work was harsh and tiring and at times it was too tough,
knees and elbows would be grazed; the bricks were coarse and rough.
Some boys were not quick enough, and Master Sweeps won't wait,
to get them moving faster they'd light fires in the grate.
Toby had been sweeping chimneys since the age of five;
if he could reach the age of eight, he'd leave the trade, alive.
Only yesterday he'd learnt a friend of his had died,
he'd got wedged and couldn't move, no matter how he'd tried.
This day Toby wasn't well, his body felt like lead,
he wished that he was back at home, and fast asleep in bed.
His parents needed money--and all of it he'd give,
which, added to his father's pay, enabled them to live.
The Master Sweep was waiting with his chimney sweeping gear,
he looked at Toby angrily and grabbed him by the ear.
"You're late!" he bellowed harshly. "so you'll lose an hour's pay."
Though Toby knew he wasn't he was too afraid to say.
"If you don't do your job right, then you'll get to feel me fist."
The Master Sweep then took him to the first job on his list.
Toby's heart sank heavily when he saw where they were,
a house with countless chimney pots--where many deaths occur.
They were taken to the ground floor room with the fire grate,
his master told him to be quick, or he would know his fate.
With bends that were too narrow, filled with soot, and other muck,
he'd have to sweep them fast because he knew he could get stuck.
Chimneys full of sticky soot, these houses were so old,
though Toby felt quite dizzy now, he'd do as he was told.
He climbed up in the chimney where the bends closed off the light,
the little air he had to breathe, he'd have to do this right.
He scraped and brushed the soot away as further up he went,
around the corners, going up, his breathing was soon spent.
At last he turned a corner, and he saw a speck of light,
but when he went to go ahead, his body had jammed tight.
He kicked his legs and breathed in hard while pushing with his arms.
His shoulders stuck, he couldn't move, and dread replaced alarm,
he thought about his family, and then began to cry;
he screamed for help, he was so scared, he thought that he would die.
He pushed and pushed with all his strength, but soon began to tire
his nightmare would be coming true, he knew they'd light the fire.
His throat felt raw, his eyes dried out, his dizziness was bad;
everything went round and round. Where were his mum and dad?
Toby couldn't stay awake, he knew he'd lost the fight,
he let his eyelids fall and close as sleep removed his plight.
His body slumped and then it was he saw his granny's face;
she took him by the hand and led him to a better place.
In Victorian days, child labour was the norm. There were many jobs the older people couldn't so because they were too big. Chimney sweeping was just one of them. Many children died in the chimneys, either through shear terror, suffocation, even being burned to death. Most were stuck fast and couldn't move and were later brought out dead. In 1832 the law against child chimney sweep came in, but the children were still forced through the narrow winding passages of the chimneys in the larger houses.
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