Contrary to what Walt Disney would have you believe, being a chimney sweep was not a fun-filled occupation meant to be celebrated in motion pictures. There were no happy orphans spinning about with brooms in hand as they merrily broke into song and performed synchronized dance moves in the streets. Nor were there grandiose adventures across rooftops and mischievous winks to the viewer at the end. It was actually one of the most miserable jobs of Victorian England, consisting of grueling work and perpetual health hazards that dramatically reduced the individual’s life expectancy.
Most chimney sweeps were young boys between the age of six and nine. Their smaller size enabled them to fit into incredibly tight spaces, and their Cockney accents were perfect for cursing in a believable manner. Salt water was often rubbed into their wounds to harden them for the climb, and their only reward for their laborious efforts was black lung and a night locked in a closet. The profession would eventually fall into decline with the rise of central heating systems, but not before an entire generation of children became unrecognizable due to the overpreponderence of soot.