London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the "Leeks" among the Chimney- Sweepers.
THE are men who have not been brought up to the trade of chimney sweeping, but have adopted it as a speculation, and are so called from their entering , or inexperienced, into the
|business. There are I find as many as leeks altogether among the master chimney-sweepers of the metropolis. Of the "high masters" the greater portion are leeks—no less than out of . I was informed that of this class was formerly a solicitor, others had been ladies' shoemakers, and others master builders and bricklayers. Among the lower-class sweepers who have taken to this trade, there are dustmen, scavagers, bricklayers' labourers, soldiers, costermongers, tinkers, and various other unskilled labourers.
The leeks are regarded with considerable dislike by the class of masters who have been regularly brought up to the business, and served their apprenticeships as climbing-boys. These look upon the leeks as men who intrude upon, or interfere with, their natural and, as they account it, legal rights—declaring that only such as have been brought up to the business should be allowed to establish themselves in it as masters. The chimneysweepers, as far as I can learn, have never possessed any guild, or any especial trade regulations, and this opinion of their rights being invaded by the leeks arises most probably from their knowledge that during the climbing-boy system every lad so employed, unless the son of his employer, was obliged to be apprenticed.
This jealousy towards the leeks does not at all affect the operative sweepers, as some of these leeks are good masters, and among them, perhaps, is to be found the majority of the capitalists of the chimney-sweeping trade, paying the best wages, and finding their journeymen proper food and lodging. Into whatever district I travelled I heard the operative chimney-sweepers speak highly in favour of some of the leeks.
Many of the small masters, however, said "it were a shame" for persons who had never known the horrors of climbing to come into the trade and take the bread out of the mouths of those who had undergone the drudgery of the climbing system; and there appears to be some little justice in their remarks.
Since the introduction of machines into the chimney-sweeping trade the masters have increased considerably. In there were masters, and now there are . Before the machines were introduced, the high master sweepers or "great gentlemen," as they were called, numbered only about ; their present number is . The lower-class and master-men sweepers, on the other hand, were, under the climbing system, from to in number; but at present there are as many as odd. The majority of these fresh hands are "leeks," not having been bred to the business.