Friday Five… Worst Jobs in History

Worst Jobs in HistoryHooray! It’s the weekend! Two days of lie-ins, fry-ups and Saturday night TV. We just wish the weekend lasted a bit longer.

Though next time you get that Sunday feeling have a think about the poor souls who were preparing for another week of the world’s worst jobs. The DV team may run a tight ship but at least we can guarantee we’re not going to end up whipped, maimed or insane. Well we can’t guarantee the last one actually…

Friday Five Worst Jobs in History

1. Pure collector

Anything but pure, this is probably one of the most inappropriately named jobs of all time. A Victorian job to be avoided (literally AND figuratively) it involved finding and collecting animal faeces on from the roads to sell to the Tanners who would use it (often along with urine and animal brains) to treat their animal hides. The lucky few would transport it on their carts though for many a sack was as far as resources went.

Person spec: poor sense of smell advisable

2. Whipping Boy

In the 15th century you have to be careful whom you were friends with. Most particularly, Princes should be avoided at all costs. Sure every job has it perks, you get to hang out at the palace, eat endless amounts of food and play pranks on the king guards whenever you fancy. But beware! One prank too far and it will all go belly up for sure. Of course no one is going to whip the future king of England when he misbehaves. And who could possibly be second in line? You guessed it. The Prince’s punishments would be bestowed on the whipping boy instead – usually a close friend – in an attempt to make him feel guilty.

Person Spec: team player

3. Barber

Ever started a new job and realised it is so much more than was in the job description? You’re not alone. Medieval barber may have felt much the same way. You arrive on your first day, clippers in hand, only to be given a scalpel and syringe. Yes a barber surgeons duties ranged from bloodletting, teeth extraction and amputation to (of course) shaving and hair cutting.

Person Spec: Flexible, adaptable, willing to learn new skills

4. Hatter

You would have to be mad as a hatter to do this job. Hat making may seem like a perfectly comfortable and respectable trade at first glance. That is until we mention that in 18th and 19th century England mercury was used in the in the production of felt. And unfortunately for hatters felt was in fashion. Daily exposure would lead to an accumulation of mercury within their bodies leading to dementia caused by mercury poisoning (also known as mad hatter’s disease). The use of mercury in hat making didn’t completely stop until 1943.

Person Spec: commitment to the business even in the face of adversary

5. Mule scavenger

Our 9 to 5 jobs would seem like a doddle to the lowliest apprentices of the 18th and 19th century cotton mills. Employed as mule scavengers young children would work 14 to 16 hours a day crawling under the mill machinery collecting bits of cotton and cleaning dust and oil to keep the machinery running smoothly. Unfortunately this didn’t always go exactly to plan, though it wasn’t just cotton which could cause a problem. The occasional fingers and hands were lost in the machinery, with even some reports of decapitation.

Person Spec: A can do attitude, not afraid to take a risk

 Post Script…

And with two new staff members starting with DigVentures next week (our Community Manager and Community Archaeologist) we have to say unequivocally, this all lies at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum to working at DV towers. Just ask @Site Dog…


Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

Read more from Aisling Serrant +

Get Dig Mail

Keep up with the latest fun, facts & features from the world of archaeology.

Easy opt-out at any time - Privacy Policy

Archaeology / In Your Hands

Courses for anyone who wants to learn more about archaeology, and have fun while they're doing it!

Archaeology Courses

Our fab archaeology merch: dig team tee-shirts, Tatty Devine jewellery range, tote bags, and more!

Archaeology Shop