Having featured on the British TV programmes ‘What’s my Line?’ and ‘Bottom Knocker Street’ a Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker is one of the better known weird and wonderful occupations to be found on census records and BMD certificates. If you want to find out what being a Bottom Knocker entailed, by the way, there’s a very good explanation on the Stoke Potteries website.
At Family Detective, we come across lots of unusual job descriptions and we always try to do a little research on them to help our clients understand what their ancestors actually did. Here are just a few examples, followed by a list of links to websites that we find useful:
Snobs, Clickers and Cordwainers were all linked to the 19th Century shoe making industry. Cordwainers were distinguished from Shoemakers or Cobblers by the type of leather that they used (see Wikipedia). Clickers cut the leather with a knife and hammer, producing a clicking sound as they worked and Snobs were originally Shoemaker’s apprentices. There is some debate as to how the word came to be used in the modern sense of ‘social climber’.
Doffers, Carders and Scavengers were all found in the mills. Often only young children, Doffers would attend to the giant mill machinery, replacing bobbins when full and checking for breakages. A Carder or Comber was the one who operated the carding machine used to prepare wool and cotton for weaving, and a Scavenger was a child employed to collect loose cotton lying about the floor under machinery. This was a particularly dangerous job as the children were in close proximity to the fast-moving parts of the loom.
Marine Store Dealers were originally the proprietors of a store selling components of old ships such as sails, cordage and ironwork and other provisions to Mariners, however the term came to describe a licensed broker who bought and sold used cordage, bunting, rags, timber, metal and other general waste materials. Often considered dubious characters, Marine Store Dealers were governed by several laws and often appear in court records! There is a lot of information about them on-line: a simple Google search should turn up plenty!
Pit Brow Lasses worked in one of the many pits in and around Wigan, the archetypal mill and pit town. While most of the other mining areas of the country employed an exclusively male workforce, the Lancashire coalfield was one of several areas which had a tradition of employing women on the pithead coal screens. Here their role was to break up the larger lumps of coal and to remove the stone or other impurities. Elsewhere in the pit yard they emptied the coal tubs which came up from the face, loaded the waiting railway wagons, or tipped the loaded tubs into the barges which waited alongside adjacent canal wharfs. For more information you might want to buy a copy of Pit Brow Lasses by David Lane. (Amazon.co.uk link)
There are hundreds of other occupations which warrant a blog post or even a book of their own. Please feel free add to the comments if there is one in particular you would like my team to research. There are many other useful websites which give further information. Our favourites are:
- www.census1891.com (list of occupations)
- www.familyresearcher.co.uk (dictionary of old occupations)
- www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk (over 1500 occupations listed)
- www.familytreeassociation.org (old occupations)
Discussion: What unusual occupations have you discovered in your family tree? Are there any you would like to us to research?