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Weird and Wonderful Old Occupations: Part Two

We’re glad so many of you are enjoying these family history blog posts. Thanks very much for your kind feedback, comments and likes on various social media platforms. Our fascination with family history will never quell, and this week we’re pleased to offer you the second installment of Weird and Wonderful Old Occupations.

While they may be extinct or vastly changed in present day, there is no doubt: occupations from yesteryear are a way to help us learn about the past as well as appreciate all our modern-day comforts. Here's Part Two of our illustrious group of honest workers, vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells, in no particular order:

Smatter Hauler

Today’s interpretation: Someone who carts around other people’s baggage.

What it really was: a thief who stole silk handkerchiefs and resold them for a profit.

Slob Brickmaker

Today’s interpretation: Tradesperson who needs to do laundry and tidy up at home.

What it really was: Craftsperson who used raw mud to fashion into bricks.


Today’s interpretation: Incorrect spelling of a term used to denote performing an activity with enthusiasm (doing something ‘with fervor’).

What it really was: Not-so-lucky person who held a job unblocking sewers of fat clogs and other unmentionable debris.

Broken Reed

Today’s interpretation: The reason why a wind instrument cannot be played.

What it really was: Someone who didn’t perform as promised and was typically late.


Today’s interpretation: Someone using hot water to remove the skin of almonds.

What it really was: Animal expert, specifically known to herd deer in forests.

Area Sneak

Today’s interpretation: Dubious character who only moves in the shadows.

What it really was: Robber who flitted around housing developments seeking open back doors for prime pickings from the cooking area.

Lace Drawer

Today’s interpretation: Place to keep delicate garments.

What it really was: Low level job performed by children involving removing stray threads from handsewn lace before it was delivered to the customer.

Map Dissector

Today’s interpretation: Someone who really enjoys learning about all the tiny villages in a specific, obscure area.

What it really was: Craftsperson who sectioned oversized maps into smaller pieces for lamination and folding for easy transport.

And we’ll end on a somewhat waterlogged note with this delightful old occupation:


Today’s interpretation: Creature with large teeth that makes swimming excursions unwise.

What it really was: Term used by smugglers to warn others that the customs and excise officers were patrolling the shores.

The next time you lament what is on your desk or screen, consider how different life would be if you were employed as a Lace Drawer or Fermor. Chances are your to do list will look a lot more appealing!


Christensen, Dr. P., “What Did They Do: Ancestral Terminology”, Heritage Productions, Ontario, 2007.


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