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Lost crafts and extinct jobs

Updated on December 21, 2008

Some crafts had changed little since the Middle Ages, such as shoeing a horse, which were handed down from father to son, and from master-craftsman to apprentice. But after Industrial Revolution, and urbanization, old crafts were disappearing or have died out.

Before tractor began to replace horses, and lorries took over from wagons, wagons were made by local wainwrights. Wain is an old name for wagon. The wheelwright made wheels for the wagon.

The pump-maker drilled out the inside of an elm branch, to make a water pump for a cottage. The cordwainer made shoes, belts, harnesses and other leather good. Coopers made wooden barrels for beer and cider. Travelling workers called tinkers mended metal buckets and watering cans.

Wood was needed to make houses, furniture, fencing and wagons. Men who cut tree trunks into planks for timber were called sawyers and they worked over a pit. One man (the boss) stood on top, holding one end of a long metal saw. The junior sawyer had to stand in the pit, holding the other end of the saw. As he pulled at his end, sawdust fell on his head.

Main streets in cities were kept clean by road sweepers and rubbish collectors. ‘Night soil men’ carted away waste from cesspits.

Railway were laid by gangs of workers with picks, shovels and hammers. They also dug tunnels, built bridges and put up viaducts. In 1847, there were more than 200,000 of these navigators ( or ‘navvies‘ - a name first used in the 1700s for the diggers of Britain‘s canals) in Britain. Armies of railway navvies moved around the country, living in camps and shacks. They were famous for getting drunk and frightening villagers, much as the new steam engines used to frighten the horses.

In a typical street market in Victorian times, costermongers sold fruit and vegetables from a barrow, shouting the prices loudly to outdo any rivals. Shoppers strolled among sellers of flypapers, walking sticks andold clothes, muffin men, match-girls and flower sellers. There were Indians selling coloured scarves, Italian ice-cream sellers, organ-grinders with their trained monkeys and quack doctors selling ‘cure-all’ tonics.

Along country lanes, peddlers tramped with trays and baskets, or drove small carts from village to village, selling nuts, cakes and sweets, or small packets of seeds.

The warrener protected a wild rabbit warren from foxes, stoats and other predators. He killed and sold the rabbits for meat at the local market. At the same market, a snake catcher with a sack full live adders might sell snake-fat ointment to ease backaches. Neither is seen any more. Nor is the sandman, who sold fine sand for dusting on a letter to dry the ink. The rag and bone man, who collected unwanted household items, disappeared.

Some old crafts disappeared, new craftsmen take its place. As in the Yangtze River waves urge waves, so the new generation excels the older generation. A Chinese proverb says so.

Tinkers Workshop
Tinkers Workshop


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      fff 6 years ago

      yea that is right

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      bob 7 years ago

      that is so weird

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      PolitiCrazies 7 years ago

      Something some of the people who are concerned about losing their jobs who work on oil rigs and in mines need to think about. There are many other things you can learn to do with your knowledge and your job is just one of many we have outgrown the use of. Nothing personal it's just time to stop having people do that stuff. There will always be jobs that disappear and new ones will take their place. All the people on that list had to deal with that, no option, just change of circumstance. Thanks for the post. Interesting.

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      David 7 years ago

      It's amazing the number of trades and crafts that have very little followings these days. It makes you wonder how many trades have completly disappeared throughout the ages. This a great post by the way! Thanks for sharing it.