Shitty Jobs

Was thrifting the other week and noticed a novel set during The Great Stink. I left the book but made a note to read up on the historical event, which was pretty interesting. My favourite part of the Wikipedia article, though, was this list of Sewage Related Occupations of the Era, which includes some fantastic job titles:

Toshers, also sometimes called grubbers, scavenged through the sewers looking for anything of value. They helped to ease the flow in the sewer systems by removing small items. Often whole families worked as toshers. This gave them some immunity to sewage-related diseases that killed many.

Mudlarks scavenged in the mud of the Thames and other rivers. They were generally young children who retrieved small items and sold them for very small amounts.

Nightsoil men removed human, animal, and household waste from London to farms outside the city for use as manure. However, as London expanded, there were fewer farms and they were further from the city. A farmer would have to pay an average of 2s 6d (12½p) for the manure. The trade ceased almost completely in 1870 when guano (deposits of bird droppings) from South America became available more cheaply. This caused an increase of households dumping waste into the street where it made its way to the Thames through the sewers and rivers.

Flushermen were employed by the Court of Sewers. These men would literally “flush” away waste and anything that might block the flow of water in the new sewer system. In Henry Mayhew’s book London Labour and the London Poor, he describes the look of the flushermen: “The flushermen wear, when at work, strong blue overcoats, waterproofed (but not so much as used to be the case, the men then complaining of the perspiration induced by them), buttoned close over the chest, and descending almost to the knees, where it is met by huge leather boots, covering a part of the thigh, such as are worn by the fishermen on many of our coasts. Their hats are fan-tailed, like the dustmen’s.”

Rat-catchers were hired by the city to catch rats in the underground sewer system in order to prevent the spread of diseases. These rat catchers were paid little, but their aid in preventing more disease during and after the great stink dramatically helped London.

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