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12 Completely WTF Jobs From British History

"Mondays, amirite?" – A person whose job it is to shovel human shit

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One famous rat catcher of Victorian times was chronicled by journalist Henry Mayhew in his book London Labour and the London Poor. His name was Jack Black, and he's seen here with his trusty rat-murdering terrier. / Getty Images

Black would famously entertain crowds by shoving loads of wild rats down his shirt and letting them run up and down his arms. Because chicks dig a man who shoves rats down his front.


2. Sin-eater

Eddiethomas / Getty Images

A sin-eater was a person who was paid to drink beer and wine and/or eat loads of bread over a corpse. The point was to sort of suck up all the sins that a person hadn't had a chance to confess before dropping suddenly dead. Which honestly doesn't sound like the worst job in the world, especially if you've ever had to work in a call centre.

Sin-eating was only really a thing around the English-Welsh border and in northern Wales, and the last professional sin-eater died in 1906. Sadly, this means no one was around to eat HIS sins; however, if you'd like to help him out, you could go buy a couple of tinnies and go find his grave in Shropshire.

3. Resurrectionist

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Why bother worrying about the sins of a dead person if you can just dig them right up and rob their cold, decaying bodies? This was the work of so-called resurrectionists like the one depicted above in about 1840.

Resurrectionists would steal the bodies and sell them to anatomists, who wanted to cut them open and have a look inside in the name of science.

"Oh? Where'd I get this body? Fell off the back of a lorry, mate."

Two famous fictional resurrectionists are Dickens characters from A Tale of Two Cities: Jerry Cruncher and his son Young Jerry Cruncher. A great name for a son.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

"He looks like me, but Young." – Jerry Cruncher looking upon his newborn son


4. Mudlark

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Mudlarks were people in the 18th and 19th centuries who'd make their living sifting through the mud of the Thames in search of treasures like coal and lumps of metal. Unfortunately, this being the past, there was a lot of another sort of treasure to sift through: human turds. (History is full of turds.)

Mudlarking is actually a thing that people still do. Here's a Facebook page about it. See how many of your friends are secretly into mudlarking. I have two such friends, it turns out. (Hey Nicki and Patrick!)

Or, if sifting through mud doesn't sound like the best way to spend an afternoon, you could always just have a pint at a pub called The Mudlark near London Bridge.


5. Sewer-hunter, aka tosher

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Why wade through mud searching for riches among the turds when you could search through the source of turds themselves – the sewers?

This was the work of the tosher, which is not only how Sean Connery says tosser, but also the name of a sewer scavenger like the one pictured above. It's like he's panning for gold, but mostly getting turds. (Unless you got lucky, and some member of the upper classes accidentally swallowed and digested some nice jewellery.)

The practice was written about by our friend Henry Mayhew, who described the work of the tosher in pretty horrifying terms:

"Many wondrous tales are still told among the people of men having lost their way in the sewers, and of having wandered among the filthy passages . . . till, faint and overpowered, they dropped down and died on the spot: Other stories are told of sewer-hunters beset by myriads of enormous rats, and slaying thousands of them in their struggle for life, till at length the swarms of the savage things overpowered them, and in a few days afterwards their skeletons were discovered picked to the very bones."

Please join me in saying: Jesus Christ!

6. Whipping boy / Creative Commons

OK, as you can probably tell from the name, this one is a PARTICULARLY TERRIBLE JOB. A whipping boy was basically a young boy raised and educated with a young prince. If the little princeling ever misbehaved, you couldn't really punish him, because, I dunno, that's how monarchy works. God would be mad.

But you still had to make him know when he'd done something wrong. So you just WHIPPED HIS FUCKING FRIEND INSTEAD. Because then he'd feel bad for his friend (in theory), but you wouldn't reallllly be whipping royalty, so God wouldn't get mad.

The whipping boy, because he was so close to the future king, would probably get to be an earl or something in later life. So. That's nice.

No wonder humans are so fucked up.

7. Gong farmer

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"What's a gong?" you may be asking. "Is it something nice? Does it grow on a farm in the sunshine?"

Nope! It's poo. And gong farming is another poo job, sorry.

Later known as ~nightsoil men~ or just ~nightmen~, these poor souls were in charge of emptying cesspits in the dead of night, in the centuries before the marvel of modern plumbing.

On the plus side, they could take the poo they'd collected to the countryside to sell as fertiliser to farmers.


"Just off with our poo to the market!"

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Sadly, in 1326, according to Greg Jenner's A Million Years in a Day, one gong farmer known as "Richard the Raker" fell into his own cesspit while making a contribution to it and drowned in his own poo. RIP (Rest in Poo).

8. Groom of the stool / Creative Commons

"But what about POSH poos?" you may be wondering. "Those scruffy lads above surely couldn't come near the poo of a king!" Correct! Posh poos were tended to by posh poo people, such as Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, who was in charge of the posh poos of Charles I.

Henry VIII titled his posh poo person ~The Groom of the Stool~, and his responsibilities included inspecting the king's poos and smelling the king's farts in order to check for signs of sickness.

It was actually quite a prestigious and well-paid job. Not just any chum gets to smell the king's farts. Just look how many grooms of the stool get their own Wikipedia page nowadays! That's surely worth the smell of a few farts.

9. Crossing sweeper

The National Archives UK / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: nationalarchives

Moving along now to a job that was only kind of related to poo: The crossing sweeper was someone like the child above who would sweep in front of fancy people as they crossed disgusting 19th-century streets so that their shoes wouldn't get too poo-y.


Here's a hilarious joke from 1853 featuring a crossing sweeper: / Creative Commons

It's kind of hard to read, but it says:

Lady. "No, I've nothing for you. You always ask me every time I cross."

Boy. "Yes, and every time you crosses, you allus gives me nothink!"

Nailed it.

10. Knocker upper

J. Gaiger / Getty Images

How would people know when to wake up for their dismal jobs before the invention of the alarm clock? By getting knocked up, that's how.

This doesn't mean getting pregnant, not that the knocker upper pictured above from 1929 doesn't seem like a perfectly virile man. No, a knocker upper was someone who'd use a long stick to knock on your window till you got your lazy ass out of bed.

People could chalk on the side of their houses what time they wanted to be up, or, if you and your neighbours all worked in a factory, the company-hired knocker upper would just knock you all awake at something horrible like 3am.

But who would knock up the knocker uppers?

Here's another terrible Victorian "joke" to explain that particular riddle:

We had a knocker-up, and our knocker-up had a knocker-up
And our knocker-up's knocker-up didn't knock our knocker up
So our knocker-up didn't knock us up
'Cos he's not up.

According to Greg Jenner, knocker uppers would be woken up by "knocker uppers' knocker uppers." So that clears it right up.


11. Knockknobbler

Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images

Not to be confused with the knocker upper. It was the knockknobbler's job to chase dogs out of churches. Which was apparently a big problem in Elizabethan times.

The above photo has nothing to do with knockknobbling. I merely searched for "dog in church" and found out that they do a mass for animals at a church in Nice, France.


Anyway. Knockknobblers would use whips, or even these things called dog tongs, to get rid of unruly strays: / Creative Commons

They were also in charge of shutting up loud children, and waking up people by knocking them on their knobs, or, er, their heads.

Sorry, this is a way less cute image than the bunnies above. Go look at the bunnies again.

12. Taster

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Finally, we have the taster – a servant whose job it was to taste wine before it would be served to the king and other important types, whose lives are of course more important than the servant's, because, I dunno, God said so.

But on the other...the server might die of poisoning.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Hopefully your modern job comes with less of a risk of poisoning than the job of a taster. Unless, that is, you are Vladimir Putin's current taster. In which case, good luck!