September 3, 2012
Historical employment records are full of fantastic job titles that don’t often show up in today’s classifieds. Here are 15 professions with very interesting names.
1. Catchpole. A catchpole rounded up delinquent debtors. Imagine a cross between Dog the Bounty Hunter and a really smarmy collections agent.
2. Knocker-Up. In British towns of yore, particularly those with a mine or mill as the center of commercial activity, knocker-ups were responsible for going from house to house to wake workers in the mornings. The title came from the sound they made rapping on windows.
3. Weirkeeper. A keeper of fish traps. Just don’t ever call the guys from Deadliest Catch that to their face.
4. Ironmonger. One who sells things made out of iron. Mongers of all types were found in the Middle Ages: costermonger (fruit seller), fishmonger, woodmonger—and the term still survives here and there as in hatemonger and fear monger.
5. Hobbler. No, not one who breaks legs for the mob (or more historically, the Medicis), but rather one who tows boats on a river or canal.
6. Arkwright. A maker of arks (wooden chests or coffers).
7. Redsmith. Unlike blacksmiths who worked with iron, redsmiths worked with copper. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were a little less colorful when it came to naming.
8. Knacker. Harness maker.
9. Chandler. One who makes candles, and one of the common surnames to come from professional designations; miller, baker, cooper, and potter being other obvious examples.
10. Eggler. Predictably, an egg-merchant.
11. Collier. Not, as I expected, a devoted fan of the TV show Lassie, but in fact one who makes and sells charcoal.
12. Haberdasher. One who deals in men’s furnishings. You’ll still come across this one today, especially with shops that want to sound fancier than they are.
13. Ackerman. An oxherder. Do we have oxen in the U.S.?
14. Thimblerigger. One who runs a game of “thimblerig.” The predecessor to three-card-monte, thimblerig consisted of shuttling a pea among three thimbles and betting on which thimble the pea was under.
15. Hayward. An officer in charge of fences and hedges. Good fences make good neighbors, but good haywards make good fences.