Most people have days when they think “I hate my job.”

A mistake, a telling off, or just a boring day might make you want to be anywhere else than at your workplace.

But if you look back a few hundred years, you might realize that that odd boring day really wasn’t that bad.

Thankfully, society has moved on so the jobs don’t exist any more, but spare a thought for the poor souls who had to do these vile jobs.

Filthy, disgusting, painful, boring, these are some of the worst jobs in history.


Whipping boy

Historians speculate as to whether the role of the “whipping boy” was actually a real thing.

Some reports say boys who were educated in the same classes as princes or child kings of Britain were given their punishments.

The laws of the time meant teachers and tutors couldn’t hit a monarch or a prince.

As a result, “whipping boys” took the punishment instead of the young royals.


A sin-eating was particularly common in the country of Wales, though there are similar practices across Europe.

It involved eating a piece of bread put on the chest of a newly deceased person.

By doing this, the sin-eater took on the sins of the dead, which relieved the person’s soul.

Groom of the stool

This was another role which promoted the feeling the British Royal Family is “above” normal people.

King Henry VII decided he was too important to wipe his own bottom and created a new role called the “groom of the stool.”

The role involved taking the monarch to the toilet, inspecting what they had done, and then cleaning the royal bottom.

Edward VII got rid of this when he came to the throne in 1901.

Despite its outrageous elitism, it was deemed as a prestigious job as the “groom” got precious one-on-one time with the monarch.

Wool fuller

In the middle ages, wool became the center of England’s economy.

In 1300, there were 15 million sheep in England, which meant they outnumbered people.

While cutting off the wool was relatively straightforward, cleaning it was not.

This where the wool fuller comes in.

A job that was both unbelievably tedious and gross, the wool fuller had to spend the day “marching” on wool immersed in liquid to clean it and remove the grease.

It gets worse, as the the best liquid for the job turned out to be stale human urine.

The price for Europe’s best wool was spending your time wading in old wee, and you can’t imagine the “fullers” got the biggest cut of the profits.


Imagine if “likely death by explosion” was part of your current job description.

The word petard comes from French péter, meaning to fart.

Petards were bell-shaped metal devices loaded with gunpowder and nailed to a wooden base.

The base was attached to the gate of a castle or a wall, and the explosion would cause maximum damage.

Unfortunately, part of that damage was often to the person operating them.

There wasn’t much consideration to safety in those days, so the petardier’s role was to set up the explosive, and if it took them with it, so be it.

The phrase ‘hoist by your own petard’ comes from the unfortunate fact most petardiers were blown up by their own devices.

Plague bearer

Life in London in 1665 was not much fun.

The plague was rampant, and led to the deaths of 69,000 people.

Unfortunately, this level of death meant some unlucky people were given the job of collecting the dead.

The job involved churches hiring plague bearers, who went out at night, collected the bodies and then put them in graves in churchyards.

So your job involving picking up rotting corpses and exposing yourself to a deadly and highly contagious disease.

Oh yes, and because of the live risk of infection, you were forced to live in the churchyard.


Managing Britain’s aging sewers remains a massive job in 2022.

People still have to go in them to deal with disgusting “fatbergs” and to remove gigantic balls of baby wipes people have flushed down the toilet.

Back in Victorian times, the sewers were even more disgusting.

However, enterprising Londoners were able to make a living sifting through the sewage to see if they could find anything valuable that may found its way down there.

This was illegal, but the “toshers”, named after slang for trash or rubbish, could make a decent, if smelly, living.

Lime burners

People working with volatile substances in 2022 are heavily protected.

But go back a few hundred years and you meet the lime burnders.

Limestone had a lot of uses.

For example, if you bash it up and heat it to approximately 800 degrees for a few days, it created quicklime used by dyers and tanners.

Dousing quick lime in the water made slaked lime, which was helpful in artillery and whitewash.

Dealing with such high temperatures was already unpleasant and dangerous.

Add in that it’s acidic, highly unpredictable and reacts violently with water -it’s not something you want to be goofing around with with.

It was often used as a weapon, and was top choice for the charming practice of burning someone’s eyes out.

Pure finder

If your boss said: “Could you pop out an get me some dog poo?”, it might raise a few eyebrows.

However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, tanneries found the best way to dry leather for book-backs , which created job opportunities for people who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty.

The “pure” tanneries needed was dog poo, which means the “finders” had to locate fresh dog muck.

The business became quite lucrative, and rival “finders” often fought over the precious commodity.

Gong farmer

Jobs in the bad old days often seemed to feature sewage.

Before the introduction of more modern sewers, the waste coming from a growing UK population.

London and other cities did provide some public toilets.

However, in the late 14 century there were 16 for a population of around 30,000, which probably led to some long queues.

The job of gong farmer meant going into the public cesspits and digging out all the waste.

It was surprisingly well-paid, with farmers getting two shillings per tonne removed – around £66 in today’s money.

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