Victorian jobs • Page 2
Join the world of pest control and tell the cats to move aside – you'll be doing the rat catching in your street from now on.
If the idea of despatching the poor little rodents with your own hands offends your sensitive soul, don't worry – you can keep them alive. Just bag up the little bundles of fur and take them around to your local pub. There you'll be handsomely rewarded for your trouble. The slathering dogs in the rat pit will do the dirty work for you to the delight of the drunken crowd.
It's not all 'nature red in tooth and claw', though. Jimmy Shaw, who manages one of the largest sporting public houses in London, collects and breeds unusually coloured rats as pets. And there is a career structure of a sort: Jack Black becomes the 'royal rat catcher' in mid-century.
Small boys between the ages of 5 and 10 are sought to clamber up chimneys to clean out deposits of soot. Some of the chimneys are extremely narrow, perhaps only 18 centimetres (7 inches) square, and you may be reluctant at first to wriggle into them. However, plenty of encouragement is provided – by a lighted straw held beneath your feet or by pins stuck into you. You may suffer some cuts, grazes and bruises at first, but months of suffering will toughen up your skin to a leather-like quality.
Sweeps have other things to look forward to – twisted spines and kneecaps, deformed ankles, eye inflammations and respiratory illnesses. The first known industrial disease – 'chimney sweep's cancer' – appears in the testicles from the constant irritation of the soot on naked skin. Many sweeps are maimed or killed after falling or being badly burned, while others suffocate when they became trapped in the curves of the chimneys.
Although you will officially be apprenticed as a chimney sweep, there really is no work of any value to be had at the end of your years of training – despite your poor diet, you will have grown too large to be of any use.
Where some people see an overcrowded city brimming with rubbish, we see a sprawling metropolis with money-making opportunities in every nook and cranny.
Why not join us collecting domestic rubbish and see if you can find any accidentally discarded valuables or old shoes? Alternatively, drop down into the sewers and discover an Aladdin's cave of coins and jewellery, hiding among the stools and urine.
If you've not got the stomach for this and you really are down on your luck, why not try mudlarking? Wade into the mud alongside the Thames at low tide and pick up bits of coal, rope, bones or copper nails to sell. 'It was very cold in winter to stand in the mud without shoes,' a child mudlark told the journalist Henry Mayhew. You won't get rich – the same boy said that he would 'starve until the next low tide' unless he found something – but it may keep you out of the workhouse a little while longer.
This is not so much a job advert as a list of the work that you may be required to do if you wish to stay in the workhouse and receive free board and lodging:
- breaking stones to be sold for road making
- oakum picking – teasing out the fibres from old hemp ropes to be sold to the navy to seal the linings of wooden ships
- corn grinding using huge mill stones to make flour
- crushing gypsum to be used in plaster manufacture
- chopping wood.
The good news is that you won't have to work on Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas Day, and you can give three hours' notice and be gone. The bad news is that you've got nowhere to go.