Medieval Times: Worst Jobs Descriptions

1. __Churl___This job was lowest on the pecking order. His job was farming a small piece of land keeping his family alive on the food he produced. Ploughing the land with oxen and a wooden plough was essential but difficult and backbreaking work. On top of farming, he also had to put a roof over his head, which meant building a hut made of wattle and daub. Wattle was made of long, slender hazel branches that were painstakingly woven together to make walls and once these were in place the daub was slapped on to stop the wind howling through. This was a messy, smelly job because daub is made from water, mud, straw and dung!

2. __The Fuller_____This person washed out the grease and impurities from newly woven woolen cloth. The best way to do this was by putting it in a big vat of stale urine, yes urine, and stomping on it for hours on end. The stench was obviously horrendous and, even though the job was mind-numbingly tedious, the fuller couldn’t lose his concentration. Because the process also tightened the weave and thickened the cloth, if it wasn’t treated evenly for exactly the right amount of time, the whole bale could be ruined.

3. ____Arming Squire_____This job was a cross between a roadie, caterer and lavatory attendant. This job required the person to look after his knight’s every need, offering him all the comforts of home during travelling army campaigns. This meant dressing, feeding and waiting on his master, as well as taking care of all his belongings on the ‘baggage train’, trudging for miles every day before setting up camp. But the worst bit was undoubtedly cleaning the knight’s armor after a heavy day on the battlefield. On the outside there was mud and blood, but the inside was far worse. Knights didn’t get toilet breaks during battle, so this person had to clean what could be described as a big, metal nappy. To add to this, water was too precious to be used for cleaning so the squire would use a mixture of sand, vinegar and a little urine to clean.

4. __Leech Collector______This job was meant for the ladies. The person who did this job would wade (walk) around in lakes and bogs with their bare legs showing. The goal? To get the leeches to attach themselves to their legs. The goal was to get as many as possible to attach to your leg. This could cause huge amounts of blood loss, infection, and even diarrhea. Do you have nice legs? Than this job is for you.  

5. ____Lime Burner___________Lime was used for making building mortar, which was in demand for the cathedrals springing up all over the country. This person had a thankless, but important task. This job required the person to heat chalk in a kiln at 1,100°C to make ‘quicklime’. The dust the quicklime produced could cause blindness and spontaneously combust and burn. If that wasn’t enough, the carbon monoxide could make the worker dizzy and he could fall into the kiln with ease.

6. ____Treadmill operator___________This was definitely not a job for those afraid of heights. This job was mainly done by the blind, as they were totally oblivious to what was going on. The person would go inside a giant wooden wheel and walk for hours and hours, which would turn the giant wheel to operate the crane. This crane would be used to lift heavy stones to the top of the cathedral to finish it off. It was monotonous and dangerous because, if the treadmill was damaged by the weather or badly constructed, it could come crashing down.

7. ___Barber/Surgeon_________This person would have two things in his job description. His primary duties would be to amputate limbs for people. The tools of the surgeon would be two knives and a hand saw. Nothing would be given to the patient to put them to sleep. The doctor would saw off the limps with the patient fully awake, usually having to restrain them forcefully so the job could be completed.  This person would also serve as a barber for there usually wasn’t enough amputation work to do that fulltime. Often times, they would use the same tools for both amputation and hair cutting.  The person could tell if a person was sick or not based on the color of the urine in the first offering of the day.

8. ____Lance Maker___________This person made the lances for knights to joust with. A lot of pressure was on this job, for they lances had to be strong enough to knock the opponent off his horse, but also shatter so as to not hurt the knight using it. It would take many, many hours of concentrated work to make a lance, only to be shattered in a matter of seconds. If the lance did not perform up to the expectation of the knight, then this person would be executed.

9. ___Guillemot Egg Collector___This job would not be for those scared of heights, as your feet would rarely be firmly planted on solid ground high up in the air. Trying not to fall or slip, which would result in crashing to your death, this person’s goal was to get the special eggs. This person would have to walk backwards off of a rock face where you could then accidentally be bashed against the rocks or even worse have your rope made of stinging nettles shred and plunge to your death. Of course, there is also the challenge of actually collecting the eggs once you are dangling hundreds of feet off the ground.

10. ___Bog Iron hunter_______The Lords needed vast quantities of iron for tools and weapons. This person hunted for iron ore in bogs. In all weathers, he poked around in soggy bogs trying to find up to 40kgs of ore a day for the smelters. This would be an extremely boring and pain-staking job for often times, the weather would be cold and hypothermia and/or freezing to death would be likely due to being in the water for so long.

11. ___Coin Stamper______This job wouldn’t even pay the person any money! The one and only task for this job was to make coins out of silver. For those who did this job, their payment was in the form of room and board and that’s it. If they fell to the temptation of stealing the silver, even just a shaving, then a be-heading was in their future. If a whole coin went missing, then the thief would have his hand cut off and nailed to the door as a warning to others.

12. ___Rat-Catcher________Pest control experts. These are people hired to catch the rats in town to prevent the spread of disease. Some people that did this job would breed their own rats and release them, thus increasing the pay-out they would receive for the amount of rats they caught and killed. Rat fights would also lead to breeding, thus causing more rats to be in the town.  Techniques to catch rats were: hand, specially bred vermin terriers, or traps. Rats were mainly found in holes, haystacks, or dark locations. The danger of this job was getting bit and catching a disease.

13. ____Sin-Eater________The person who did this job was usually a beggar. A crust of bread and bowl of ale would be passed by the dying person, then set upon their chest. This job would then required the person to eat the bread and drink the ale and thus absorb the sin of the dying person, thus allowing them to die pure.

14. ____Toad-Eater_______This person was an assistant to a showman or quack doctor. They would eat or pretend to eat a poisonous toad, so the showman or quack doctor could show his magical abilities by resurrecting the toadeater or curing them of the poison.  Sometimes they would actually eat the toad, sometimes pretend. A dead toad wasn’t poisonous as long as they stripped the skin off of it first.  Got milk? When the toad is threatened, the warts on the skin would give out a nasty milky substance.

15. ___Spitboy________This job would be the lowest rung of the kitchen hierarchy in the castle. These men were in charge of turning the metal rods that contained the food to be cooked on an open fire with extremely high temperatures. They had to be fully clothed and they stood the same distance from the fire as the food was. Starting at 4 a.m., they would work for the next six hours with no bathroom break and they were forbidden from going to the bathroom on the fire.  The spits were enormous and very hard to turn because of the large quantities of meat.

16. ____Gong Farmers_______A smelly job for sure. These people who would empty our the privies or cesspits of human excrement. Based upon the disgusting-ness of the job, it could only be done at night. They would have to carry all the waste matter out past the city limits, into the country. They also had to dig out the cesspits in the first place. These cesspits would need to be cleaned every two years because the smell was a big problem.  There were public latrines, like in London, for instance, but only 16 of them for 30,000 people.  Smelly and dangerous because these workers were often killed by the fumes of the excrement.

17. ____Gong Scours________Must be a small boy for this job. The small boys would crawl through the drains and clean the pipes. The toilets were buckets that would empty into drains and then empty into the river Thames.  Especially with kings, they would have luxurious toilet seats that would be padded with silk ribbon and studded with gold beads.

18. ____Groom of the Stool______Perhaps the most degrading job on the list, this person would wipe the bum of the King after the King “passed excrement.” In order to apply for this job, one would be sure to try to get any other job out there.