The Victorian era in Britain is renowned for its fashion, etiquette, and architecture. However, it was also a time of great social disparity and poverty. In the 19th century, certain jobs were considered to be so undesirable that they could lead to social ostracism. One such job was employment in the workhouse, which was possibly the most infamous place of employment in the 19th century. In the 19th century, the social hierarchy was deeply entrenched in Victorian society, with the wealthy elites occupying the top rungs of the ladder while the working-class struggled to eke out a living. However, even among the working class, some jobs were considered more respectable than others.
The Victorian Jobs: An Overview
During the 19th century, a number of jobs were considered so undesirable and unpleasant that they would make you a social outcast. Perhaps the most notorious workplace was the workhouse, where the poorest members of society would be sent to work in harsh and often cruel conditions. One particularly grueling job within the workhouse was picking oakum, which involved unraveling old ropes to make them into a coarse fiber that could be used for caulking ships.
The workhouse was one of the most notorious places of employment during this time, where the destitute were sent to work in exchange for food and shelter. The jobs available at these workhouses were often backbreaking and soul-crushing, leaving those who performed them as social outcasts. One such job was picking oakum, a grueling and tedious task that exposed the full horror of these institutions.
Despite the hardship and low social status associated with these jobs, they were still essential to the functioning of society. Without workhouses, railways, rat-catchers, and tanners, Victorian society would not have been able to function. Nevertheless, the experience of working in these jobs was often one of extreme hardship and social isolation. Today, we can look back on these jobs with a sense of horror and gratitude that we live in a society where such employment is no longer necessary.
The Infamous Workhouse: A Day of Picking Oakum
The workhouse was a place where the destitute and homeless could go for food and shelter, but it came at a terrible price. Those who entered were often subject to harsh living conditions, and their labor was exploited. One of the most grueling tasks that inmates were forced to undertake was the picking of oakum. This involved separating old ropes into their constituent fibers, which would then be used to create new ones.
This job was a monotonous and painful job that often led to injury, as the fibers would get stuck in the skin and cause painful infections. The workhouse was not the only place of employment that could earn you a negative reputation. Digging railways was a dangerous and backbreaking job that was often done by the most desperate members of society.
The Sinister Site: Digging Railways and Rat-Catching
Aside from the workhouse, there were other jobs that were considered to be socially unacceptable. For instance, digging railways was a job that was looked down upon by many Victorians. The workers who undertook this job were often viewed as being rough and uneducated, and were excluded from polite society. Another job that was considered to be undesirable was that of a rat-catcher.
Rat-catching was a dirty and dangerous occupation that was often performed by the poorest members of society. Rat-catchers would work at night, using dogs and ferrets to catch rats and other vermin that infested the streets. This job involved hunting and killing rats, which were seen as carriers of disease and filth. Although it was a necessary job, it was also considered to be dirty and lowly.
The Worst Job of Them All: The Tanners
Perhaps the worst job of all was that of a tanner. This job involved working with animal hides, which had to be soaked in urine and excrement in order to remove the hair. The odor that emanated from tanneries was so strong that it often permeated the surrounding area, making it impossible for anyone to live nearby. Those who worked as tanners were often shunned by society, as the smell of their profession was considered to be repugnant.
The tanner’s job could be considered as the worst job as the tanners worked with animal hides, turning them into leather by soaking them in urine and then beating and scraping them for hours on end. The smell and the filth associated with this job were so overwhelming that tanners were often forced to live in their workshops, isolated from the rest of society.
Other Unpleasant Jobs of Victorian Era
In addition to the jobs discussed above, there were also other jobs that were considered social outcasts during the Victorian era. One such job was that of a scavenger, who would collect waste and garbage from the streets. This job was not only dangerous, as the scavengers were exposed to disease and filth, but it was also stigmatized because it was associated with the lower classes. Another job that was considered a social outcast was that of a matchstick maker, who would often work in cramped and poorly ventilated conditions, leading to serious health problems. These jobs were a stark reminder of the harsh realities of life for the working classes during the Victorian era.
There were several other jobs during the Victorian era that were considered to be extremely unpleasant and were often associated with social outcasts. For example, those who worked as sewage or “night soil” collectors had to manually remove human waste from outhouses and other waste disposal areas. Chimney sweeps were also among the most despised laborers due to the hazardous and often deadly conditions they faced while cleaning chimneys. Additionally, matchstick makers were known to suffer from severe health issues such as “phossy jaw” due to exposure to phosphorus fumes.
The Victorian era was a time of great change and upheaval, and it was a time when certain jobs were considered to be socially unacceptable. The workhouse was a particularly infamous place of employment, and those who were forced to work there often suffered greatly. Digging railways, rat-catching, and tanning were also jobs that were looked down upon, and those who worked in these professions were often ostracized by society. Today, we look back on these jobs with a sense of horror and amazement, as we realize just how difficult life was for those who lived in the Victorian era.