If you think that your job in customer services in which you spend the entire day being barked at by customers is bad enough, thank God you weren’t around in Tudor times, for example, when some jobs really sucked (literally). The well-to-do and the aristocracy demanded comforts that would have to be provided through the sweat, blood and tears of those that served them. Some of these jobs are described below. We don’t know we’re born.
1. Whipping Boy
We’d be calling social services today if the practice continued. Essentially, whipping boys, or their bottoms, served as ‘stand-ins’ to be whipped when the king’s son misbehaved. The term ‘whipping boy’ is used today to describe any person who ‘takes the flak’ for another’s misdeed or error. But in the monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries, whipping boys were young boys of usually high status employed by the courts to receive any discipline meant for the king’s son. In those days, only the king himself would be permitted to enforce discipline on his son, but because the king would be frequently absent, a whipping boy would receive any punishment meted out to the prince. It was considered an effective deterrent to future misbehaviour because of the emotional bond typically forged between the prince and his whipping boy: the prince would be at ‘pains’ to prevent his friend from being whipped in the future.
2. Gong Farmers
Gong farmers in Tudor England worked the privies and the cesspits (known as ‘gong’). Specifically, they removed human excrement from these places, taking it to official dumps; they also only worked at night. Gong farmers would often find themselves knee-deep in excrement (if they weren’t choking to death on the fumes) as London’s population, well, exploded. Today, the emptying of cesspits is done mechanically using specialised vehicles.
3. Leech Gatherer
You won’t be surprised to learn that tech jobs weren’t at all in demand in 19th century Europe. Leech gatherers were the pros that people were after back then. Leeches, those blood-sucking little creatures, were widely used for a variety of medical applications. Cue leech gatherers, whose job it was to go out and procure the slippery creatures. Much easier said than done, as you’ll know if you’ve had any contact with leeches. But the leech gathers would actually wade into marshes or bog, legs unprotected, and entice these vampire worms to their person, inviting the visitors to drink on their blood to their heart’s content, prior to gathering them up and, I presume, dying of leech-related conditions.
There was an invasion of body snatchers (resurrectionists) in the job market of 19th century Europe. Body snatchers would dig up corpses from the grave and supply them to medical schools. Demand for corpses was so high that some resurrectionists turned to murder just to keep up with this demand.
5. Groom of the Stool
Have I saved the best, or worst, till last? You decide. The Groom of the Stool was the official brown-noser in Tudor times. This poor fellow was drawn from the nobility, (so he wasn’t poor in the literal sense of the word), and would literally have to wipe his king’s bottom. Ever by the king’s side, the Groom of the Stool had his king’s full confidence, such was the intimacy between the two. Wiping the regal bottom was a job that commanded the respect, fear and the envy of those within the royal court.
In most cases, desperate poverty, lack of information, poor education and limited transport meant that the masses were often forced into the jobs they took. Although times have changed significantly, there are still constants to be found, for example external factors still influence our choice of career. But we have more choice at our disposal than ever before, so we can at least shape our career paths to a much greater extent than those who have gone before us.
Are there any jobs that you feel should be in this post? Please let me know using the comments box below.