Historical Fiction

Infants of the Brush – A.M. Watson (by Beata)

29 July 2019
Infants of the Brush Book Cover Infants of the Brush
A. M. Watson
Historical Fiction
Red Acre Press
November 18, 2017

Infants of the Brush is historical fiction based on Armory v. Delamirie, a 1700s court case before the King’s Bench against Paul de Lamerie, a silversmith. In the vein of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Infants of the Brush is set in a time when London society ignored the ills of child labor. Unlike the gleeful chimney sweeps portrayed in Mary Poppins, climbing boys were forced up burning flues to dislodge harmful soot and coal ash. Egan Whitcombe is just six years old when he is sold to Master Armory for a few coins that his family desperately needs. As one of Master Armory’s eight broomers, Egan quickly learns that his life depends on absolute obedience and the coins he earns. Pitt, the leader of Master Armory’s broomers, teaches Egan to sweep chimneys and negotiate for scraps of bread. Broken and starving, the boys discover friendship as they struggle to save five guineas, the cost of a broomer’s independence.

Chimney Sweeps Remembered

The story of a group of underprivileged boys living in the 18th century London and exploited as chimney sweepers moved me deeply …

The novel portrays a group of boys – chimney sweepers – who, by poverty and misfortunes, become actually slaves to a heartless Master Armory for several years, until they grow up too big to get inside a chimney. The poverty is behind the forced separation from family, a family that is often impossible to regain even if they manage to free themselves from Armory. Egon Whitcombe’s mother sells him (!) when he is six, as, after her husband’s death at sea, she struggles to feed her son, her ill daughter and herself. Egon is intelligent and soon understands that only following the rules will allow him to become free again.

Descriptions of daily hardships, injuries, hunger and lack of love are most gripping and upsetting.  I was surprised to learn that the book is based on factual information. Sweeping the chimneys was necessary, as it is today, but then it was done by little boys who often got injured or killed while earning meagre money which was to be given to their so-called patrons in order to buy their freedom.

I was unaware that despite several legal steps to eradicate this exploitation taken over a period of two hundred years, it was only when central heating was introduced that children were no longer ’employed’ as chimney sweepers!

AM Watson did fantastic thorough research and brought these long-forgotten children back to life. I would like to thank Ms AM Watson for a signed copy of this novel and a lovely personalized card.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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