Seven jobs of Victorian England everyone would hate to do today

Do you hate your job? Ever thought that you are stuck with the worst job ever? Here are seven weird and terrible professions from nineteenth-century England that can make you feel your work is heavenly. Check out these worst professions of Victorian England that thankfully do not exist anymore!

The Victorian England we see in historical Hollywood movies today seems almost picture-perfect; but in reality, it was far from so. Indeed it had its wonders – the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Hyde Park, the Trafalgar Square. On the other hand, there were heaps of dump and dung, often as high as houses, and pools of sewage in every neighborhood. Modern waste-management systems were yet to be invented. In fact, people hardly knew about the bacteria – they thought the cause of all epidemics was 'poisonous air' or miasma. Maladies were rampant. Epidemics were frequent. The air was stinking with foul smells everywhere.

Some sort of waste-management and recycling system was in place, though. There were people like the night-soil men alongside scavengers like toshers, sewer-hunters, and dredgermen who ensured the hygiene of life and progress of civilization. These were some of the most terrible professions of Victorian England. If you think you hate your job, think twice. Repulsive, Nasty, Abominable – well, any word would probably fall short to describe the kind of jobs these people had to do to earn their daily bread. While some of them were decently paid, most of them could only make a few shillings a month, barely enough to continue their miserable existence on the earth. Let us have a look at some of the weirdest and terrible jobs of Victorian England that thankfully does not exist today.

Night-soil men

Before the invention and implementation of modern sewage systems, human excrements would pile up in pits or cesspools in every house; and when those pits were filled to their brims, the night-soil men would be called for to clear them. The night-soil was actually a euphemism for human excrements in Victorian England – probably named so because they were mostly removed at night from the cesspools of individual households. There were divisions of labor too – the Ropeman, the Holeman, and the Tubmen all had their respective functions. The job was foul indeed, but the pay was pretty good, and they were usually offered a bottle of gin as a token of appreciation of their labor by the house-owners.

What is more interesting is that the night-soil men were at the top of what can be called Victorian England's literally 'underground' economy – an economy consisting of scavengers and people doing 'dirty works'. In fact, they were the bridge between the legitimate and the underground economies – being individual contractors often having brick-and-mortar offices. In fact, in the medieval times, their job was even more venerated; then known as "rakers" or "gong-farmers". And why should it not be respectable? After all, they were at the pinnacle of the contemporary world's waste management system. Of course, you could argue that their job was probably more repulsive than other scavengers of Victorian England like the toshers and the sewer-hunters. And the work was considered risky as well – in the year 1326, a guy called Richard fell into a cesspool and died of drowning in human excrements.


One might wonder why there were surprisingly high numbers of dead bodies floating in the water of the river Thames. Several drowned every week, many more were murdered and their bodies were disposed of in the river. The queer job of the Victorian dredgermen was to fish out those dead bodies from the water. They were required to hand over those dead bodies to the police and were paid per corpse. Additionally, they made some extra money by robbing the dead! Of course, if they did not empty the pockets of the deceased, the police would. Henry Mayhew, a noted London journalist, observed how no corpse brought ashore by the dredgermen would surprisingly ever have a single penny in his pocket! In the opening section of Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens has portrayed a man justifies robbing the corpse by saying that the dead man belongs to the other world, but his money belongs to this (and should, therefore, be stolen and kept in circulation in this world). So, would you fancy being a dredgerman in Victorian London?


While the night-soil men were busy dealing in human excrements, the pure-finders engaged themselves in the canine feces. It was purchased in bulk by the tanneries – they used it to process the leather. The excrement of dogs contained certain enzymes that would help make the leather flexible and shining. That may sound pretty repulsive nowadays, but in Victorian England when the use of modern chemicals was largely unknown, canine excrements were the only material to make leather shiny and soft. 'Pure' was the euphemism for it, and scavengers who would collect the dog-dung from the streets as well as from households with pets were called pure-finders. This was not quite a respectable job, but at least it would earn them some pennies to make the ends meet.

Sewer-Hunters, Toshers, and Mudlarks

London, like many other metropolitan cities of nineteenth-century Europe, had a vast underground network of tunnels to manage the sewer. The job of the sewer-hunters was to slog through the river of filth that flowed down those tunnels and forage whatever they would consider useful. Sewer-hunting was a very risky job. The sewage tunnels were full of methane, and the kerosene lamps that the sewer-hunters carried would often cause sudden and great fires, leaving the bodies of those poor souls incinerated in those underground tunnels without even anybody knowing.

On the other hand, the word 'tosher' etymologically referred to thieves who would pilfer coppers (colloquially called 'tosh' in Victorian England) from the hulls of ships moored along the river Thames. Gradually, any valuable metal scraps came to be known as tosh. Thus, the two terms toshers and sewer-hunters eventually came to be used interchangeably, though, in the beginning, they had two very different professions. Also, there were mudlarks – who would scavenge the mud of the river Thames. Usually, the mudlarks were destitute children beginning their foraging career, and they were considered the lowermost stratum of the foraging economy. They would collect anything that the toshers would throw away, even if that was a piece of wood or rope. To become a tosher, one would usually require years of mudlarking experience. By the way, how mundane do you find the coinage 'mudlark' as opposed to the romantic 'skylark' immortalized by Wordsworth and Shelley?

Bone Pickers

While all other scavengers specialized in certain things, the bone-pickers were general foragers. They would collect anything and everything – and in many parts of India, we still have this profession, unfortunately.

Victorian England had many other low-paying professions, such as the Bunters or old women foragers, Chimney Sweepers (immortalized by William Blake through his poetry), Linkboys (boys who would carry a flaming torch and show you your way in the dark in the days before street lighting), and Resurrectionists who stole corpses from graves to sell them to anatomists and medical students. Almost none of this profession exists today in present-day England, thanks to modern civilization. Although unfortunately, some sort of scavenging professions still exist in undeveloped and developing nations, the working conditions are not as bad as Victorian England. Moreover, both governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the minimum wage laws across the globe, are trying to ensure that even the poorest do not go hungry. We hope, the conditions are improving even for the destitute, and scavenging would soon make less sense from a monetary point of view than taking up a better, respectable, and hygienic job.


Author: Sophie Wilson22 Apr 2020 Member Level: Silver   Points : 6

It may benefit readers better to share a conclusion to your article Poulami, as while it was an interesting read, I was confused on the point being made to the reader by the end. Was the idea to reflect on one's current job situation and be grateful that they don't hold any of the jobs that are expressed in the article? Or was the intention simply to provide awareness of odd jobs from Victorian England (19th century) or something else?

I am unsure of the connection between comparing 'weird jobs' from the 19th century, with a 21st job that someone may find themselves currently unhappy with. You did mention at the start that these jobs don't exist anymore (thankfully so), but I would primarily put that down to changing times and the impact of technology having progressed dramatically from then till today. Someone from today's world may never have to take on such a job but there are still some insanely weird jobs that do exist in today's century, and perhaps using more current examples of those, would bring the point home better in my humble opinion. If that was indeed the point you were trying to put across.

I personally feel there are multiple reasons and factors behind why one holds the job they hold today, and that differs from person to person. At times there is a means to do something about it, and it requires sacrifices, efforts, and so on.. to get the job change you are looking for. At other times, it's the best option you have amongst limited options available, even if you feel stuck with it. There are heaps of jobless people over the world, who would probably be grateful to have any job, then none at all!

Would love to hear more from you Poulami as to what was the intention and inspiration behind this article.

Looking forward to your response. Keep writing!

  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: