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The 10 worst jobs in history

A plague pit

Plague body collector put the dead into a plague pit

If you ever think today’s jobs are a bit rubbish, you should probably take in the fact you’re in a warm office with other people or in a role with lots of rules designed to keep you safe.

Construction workers, for example, are now the safest they’ve ever been as they embark on highly complex – and very big – building projects.

You have means in place now to stop you getting stressed out, to make sure you’re not too warm or too cold and laws that make sure you’re not required to work for too long.

None of this existed in the past, and people had to try to make ends meet by doing disgusting, dangerous, exhausting jobs to avoid starving or freezing to death.

Here are 10 of the worst jobs in history.

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Tosher (Sewer Hunter)

Toshers were people in Victorian London who earned a living by going down into the sewers and rooting through the stinking sludge to look for valuables.

These jobs were also illegal, so once you emerged from a day of sifting through human excrement, you could be arrested.

Vomit Collector

Yes, this was a thing.

It’s a widely reported – and totally wrong – historical fact the Romans had “Vomitoriums”.

It was said there were special rooms guests at banquets could do to vomit up their feast so they could continue feasting.

In fact, there were no rooms, but being sick to free up space was common.

And it was some unfortunate soul’s job to clean it all up.

READ MORE: The 9 Most Spooky Jobs In The World

Leech collector

Leeches were widely used in medicine in the middle ages.

They were used in a technique called “bleeding” which involved the removal of infected blood.

There was only one way of collecting them.

The leech collector would find the nearest bog or pond, wade in with bare legs and wait until the leeches attached themselves.

They were then removed and sold on to the highest bidder.

Happily, medicine has moved on dramatically.

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This was another job in the middle ages, this time in England’s thriving wool industry.

In 1300, there were more sheep in England than people.

Removing the wool was easy, cleaning years of dirt from it was a lot harder.

The wool fuller then stepped up, and spent the day “marching” on wool immersed in liquid.

While this was good for their daily step count, it wasn’t great for their health.

This is because it was realised the best liquid for the job was, in fact, stale human urine.

This was the price that had to be paid for the best wool in Europe, and we’re sure the Fullers got a good cut of the money made (they didn’t).

Violin string maker

Violins have been used to make some of the greatest music in history.

Unfortunately, in the early days of classical music, how their strings were made was a pretty gross job.

It was found the best way to hit the low notes was to twist strands of sheep guts together to make the string.

It was a very slow and tricky process, as the sheep had to be butchered carefully so the stomach and intestines were not ruptured.

Many hours were then spent trimming away any fatty tissue, blood vessels and muscle.

The gut then had to be soaked in a solution of wood ash to clean them again.

This was also done before they started to rot.

They were then dried and twisted into the strings.


In medieval England, there were so many rules you had to obey, staying alive or out of prison meant you were doing well.

People being sentenced to death was common.

This meant you needed people given the job of carrying out these sentences.

Whether it was public hangings or a decapitation, the executioner was given the role of taking another person’s life.

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Plague burier

It is thought the plague killed as many as 200 million people around the world in the mid-1300s

Thousands of people were dropping dead every day and there was a constant need for the bodies to be removed.

This fell to the body collectors and the plague buriers.

Their job was to collect the dead and dying and take them off to be buried is mass graves.

This, of course, was both revolting and highly stressful, as handling the dead meant the collectors were exposed to the highly contagious disease themselves.

Rat catcher

Modern pest controllers use a number of techniques to stop rat infestations that meet a range of health and safety requirements.

In history, rat catchers were tasked with culling the animals to try to stop a repeat of the devastating outbreaks of plague seen over a 300 year period.

Catchers used animals to catch rats, but also went into infested areas themselves, meaning they were at high risk of getting bitten.

Curiously, rat catchers often operated what are now known as “side hustles” selling the animals for the grotesque “rat-fighting” industry and even breeding them.

Gong farmer

Before the invention of sewers, most homes had cesspits, basically holes where excrement was stored.

The presence of these pits meant everywhere stank.

It was the job of the gong farmer to clear out these pits and dispose of the excrement.

Even better for them is that the powers-that-be decided the public didn’t want to see these people at work, so decreed the work could only be done at night.

The job involved shoveling the slurry on to carts which were then taken to sites outside the towns and cities and dumped.

You can just about imagine how smelly, dirty, unhygienic and generally disgusting this was.

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