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The Isle of Wight branch of the Campaign for Real Ale

Valentine Gray (The Little Sweep)

by Rob Marshall

This memorial stands on the corner of the Church Litten Park in Newport. Valentine Gray It was erected in 1822 by the people of Newport who had been outraged by the discovery of the emaciated body of this ten-year-old boy chimney sweep in a shed in Pyle Street.

He did not die in a chimney but there is no doubt that his unhealthy lifestyle and the inhumane treatment received from his employer contributed to his early death. Benjamin Davis, his employer, was found guilty of manslaughter at the Winchester Assizes. He was imprisoned for the offence but strangely, only until he had paid a fine of one shilling.

Public concern about the use of children as sweep's apprentices had been aroused years earlier by Jonas Hanway, London philanthropist. National publicity about Valentine Gray's death added weight to the campaign which led eventually to the Climbing Boys Act of 1834. This was hardly a watershed for it merely specified that no children under ten were to be so employed.

Further Acts were passed by parliament but not until 1840 were there regulations forbidding use of chimney sweeps under the age of twenty one. Even this act was not really effective as employers ignored it, finding it inconvenient to function without small climbers. Eventually police were given powers to prosecute and in 1875 the tribulations of Valentine Gray's successors were at last at an end.