Family historians often locate records that list ancestors with unusual and intriguing occupations. Many of these occupations may have originated as far back as the Middle Ages and by the 14thcentury it was common for  people to take their occupation as a surname. i.e. Skinner –   Flayer of animal hides for leather or Fletcher – maker of arrows.

By the end of  the nineteenth century many occupations had become obsolete as improvements in social conditions and technology changed the way people worked. Today we continue to see and use certain surnames without realising  they  originated from a particular occupation i.e.  Crocker –  a potter, Wainwright –a builder of wagons, Pitman – a coal miner, Glover – a maker or seller of gloves.


Sheet music seller. Goole Market, Yorkshire, 1920’s.

For a detailed list of old occupations have a look at the following websites, compiled from historical census returns, registers and voters lists.
•    The 1891 London Census Transcription – Victorian Occupations
•    Dictionary of Ancient Occupations and Trades
•    Dictionary of old occupations (Family tree researcher)

Here is a selection of just some of the more interesting occupation names:

Chirurgeon – An apothecary or surgeon
Clod Hopper – plowman or ploughman.
Costermonger – a street seller of fruit and vegetables
Dagmaker – a maker of pistols
Dock Walloper –  A dock worker, or Longshoreman
Necessary Woman –  A servant responsible for emptying and cleaning chamber pots
Nimgimmer – A doctor
Nob Thatcher – A maker of wigs
Slubber Doffer – worked in the textile industry removing bobbins from spindles
Wantcatcher – Someone employed to catch moles

If you are interested in finding out more about your ancestors’ occupations have a look at the `Tracing your ancestors’ series produced by Pen & Sword. This series includes the police, shipbuilding, fishing and medical professions as well as those who worked in the rural, textile and canal industries. The first half of each book  includes a history of the profession, how and why it developed and how it changed over time. The second half sets out how to start your research and contains a comprehensive list of registers, archives and repositories . I found the `Tracing your rural ancestors‘ title particularly interesting as it breaks down a rural society into its main groups – farmers, gentry, village tradesmen, clergy etc. This would be of great interest to  anyone wanting  an introduction to British rural society.


Shopgirls, England, 1920’s.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *