Parish : St Paul
Parish Grave Register row 23 plot 34

Lat Lon : 52.202173. 0.13663088

There is a monument to the Adkins family in this location (it was common practice to reuse a grave after a number of years, but as the grave register is very confusing we cannot be sure of the exact location of George’s grave. It could be to the south of the Adkins’ monument .

The site of George’s burial after clearance in February 2020

George William Brewster (1863 – 1875) The last sweep’s climbing boy to die in a chimney

George was the last child of John and Rebecca (née Fleet) Brewster. He was born in London in 1863.  

His parents were both from Ely. John worked as a sawyer (woodchopper). This was a job that his father, his brothers and all their sons pursued. John  and Rebecca had married in 1839 when she was probably only 16 years old. They had three sons and a daughter while living in Ely: William (1842), James (1844) Barnard (1847) and Sarah Ann (1850 – 1850).  After Sarah Ann’s death they moved to Shadwell in London. It seems that they left the three boys in Ely as in the 1851 census they were in Ely workhouse. In 1855 they had another daughter called Sarah who was baptised at St Paul’s Church Shadwell.

 In 1861 John and Rebecca were still in Shadwell with Sarah who was now 6 years old. Eldest son William lived nearby. In 1863 Rebecca gave birth to George, although this was 21 years after the birth of her first child she was only 40 years old. His birth was registered in Stepney in the third quarter of the year. It is not known when Rebecca became ill but she died in June 1864 and was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney.

By 1871 George had been adopted by his elder brother William and his wife Mary Ann and was living at 3 Comet Yard  (off Castle Street, Cambridge.) At some point George was sent to work for William Wyer, a Cambridge chimney sweep.

On 11th February 1875 George was taken to Fulbourn hospital, just outside Cambridge, where Mr Wyer had been engaged to sweep the boiler chimney. George was sent up the tiny flue and became stuck. Part of the chimney had to be dismantled before he could be released. He was still alive and efforts were made to revive him but his lungs had taken in too much soot.

William Wyler was tried for manslaughter and given 6 months hard labour. His defence barrister, Thomas Naylor, had not much to go on but tried to blame George for having eaten something before entering the chimney and the builder of the chimney for making the flue too small!

After George’s death, Lord Shaftesbury made sure that the Chimney Sweep’s Act of 1840 was superseded with the new, more powerful, Chimney Sweepers Act of 1875, ensuring that no boys were ever sent up chimneys again. The chimney sweeps were forced to invest in the expensive flexible brushes which they had been reluctant to buy when boys were cheaper.

Other members of George’s family are buried in Mill Road cemetery

John Brewster (1820 – 1895)

George’s father John was the son of James and Mary Brewster. He was born in Ely.

After the death of his first wife Rebecca he may have returned to Ely, as on November 20th 1869 he married widow Sarah March in Ely and went to live in Cottenham. In the 1891 census he was in Ely workhouse and he died in the workhouse on Mill Road Cambridge in 1895. He would have been buried in this cemetery in the parish of Andrew the Less.

George’s brothers

William Brewster (1842 – 1904)

George’s brother and adoptive father William was a sawyer. He died at Addenbrookes Hospital,  aged 60, in 1904 and is buried in this cemetery somewhere in the parish of St Andrew the Less. In the 1891 census he was living in Flower Street which lies just to the north of the cemetery.

Barnard Brewster (1846 – 1884)

Barnard was the third child of John and Rebecca. He was born and spent his early years in Newnham Street Ely but the 1851 census shows him in the workhouse with his two elder brothers. It is not known what happened to him after that until his marriage to Susannah Stearn in Cambridge in 1869. By this time Barnard had become a sawyer like his father.

In 1871 Barnard and Susannah were living next to her parents in Tennis Court Road which is where they started their family. In 1881 they had moved to 13 Gothic Street and had five children: Elizabeth (1871), Annie R (1873), Sarah A (1874), Alice Mary (1876), William J (1880) and  Harriett (1883). Two other children  died in infancy. 

When Barnard became ill and was taken into hospital he had to ask for help from the Cambridge Charity Commission. 

Barnet is buried in a communal grave in Row 11 plot 2 (grave register) or row 16 plot 10 (burial register) in the parish of St Paul’s. Neither site is far from George’s grave.

Susannah Brewster( née Stearn) (1847 – 1937)

Susannah, or Susan as she was often called, was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Stearn. She was brought up in Cambridge Place. William was a coal porter.
After her husband’s death she remained in Gothic Street until 1891 where she lived with her two youngest daughters Alice and Harriet. Then moved to Walnut Tree Avenue with her widower  brother Edward Stearn. She died in 1937 and is presumably buried  in the parish of St Andrew the Less.

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by Mary Naylor and Joanna Hudson

Barnard Brewster; George William Brewster; John Brewster; Susannah Brewster; William Brewster