Last week I mentioned a ‘Huckster’ who was an itinerant fruit and vegetable seller who would travel from village to village buying and selling produce. A Costermonger had a similar role but would sell anything. The term ‘monger’ means a dealer.
When researching my family history, I came across a Cordwainer. A Cordwainer was someone who made soft leather shoes. The word is derived from Cordoba in Spain from where the finest soft leather was sourced.
These are occupations that many people will not have heard of and it got me thinking of other ‘lost’ occupations.
When I was young, I remember the rag-and-bone man who used to ring a bell from his cart. My mother would give him kitchen slops and old clothes. My great grandfather, Ebenezer Roberts, who lived in Eastbourne, was shown on the 1881 census as ‘Goat Chaise Driver’ in other words he drove a goat powered taxi - you don’t get many people with that occupation these days!
A scan through the burial registers of St Leonard’s Church, Seaford, shows occupations which evidence the maritime location of the town. There are sailors, fishermen and mariners. A Timoneer was the helmsman of a ship (although by 1875 the term was almost obsolete) The surname ‘Simmons’ is common in the town and is derived from ‘sea-man’.
Seaford also had waggoners, farmers, shepherds and yeomen. A yeoman was an attendant to a titled family and in Sussex they were the person who usually looked after the estate. Many of my ancestors were described on the census as ‘AgLab’ in other words an agricultural labourer. When Richard Stevens was buried in Seaford in 1794, he was described as an ‘Arithmetician’ I am not too sure if doing sums was his occupation or his hobby.
That same year, Richard Winter was also buried in Seaford. His occupation was described as a ‘Tide Waiter’ which caused me some problem as it was difficult to trace. I have discovered that a tide-waiter was an exciseman or custom-house officer. He would be expected to be on patrol day or night when the tides were right for the illegal landing of smuggler boats.
In November 1859 William Robbins was buried at Heathfield after he had been found drowned in a pond on the way back home from Cross-In-Hand having consumed a large amount of liquor. He was described as a Higgler by trade. A higgler was a dealer in chickens and eggs. First traced to a dictionary of 1598, it is possible that the term ‘higgledy-piggledy’ originated in the confusion if you put hens and pigs in the same cart! A Fuller was a person who treated cloth, but a person who bleached cloth was called a Tainter. There is a Tainter’s House in Lindfield and Tainter’s Brook in Uckfield.
Occupations come and go – you don’t find many lighthouse keepers any more and many jobs have been lost to computerisation. (When did you last see an advert for a typist?) The railways are now closing signal boxes, so there will soon be no signalmen or women left in the county, apart from those working at a computerised centre in Three Bridges.
When my Dad first started working on the railway in 1957, he was employed as a stripper. No - not what you think - he kept his clothes on but was employed to demolish obsolete railway carriages at Polegate Station, stripping the fittings before the carriage frames were burned. Re-cycling hadn’t been invented in the ’50s and my Dad tells me he also burnt hundreds of wooden railway sleepers. Think how much they would be worth today!
I wonder what occupations we will lose in the future? Petrol pump attendants, bus conductors, TV repairmen and typesetters have already gone and milkmen are an endangered species!