Looking through some Yorkshire directories on a genealogy hunt last night I found two wonderful, if rather niche, job categories – Strickle Makers and Scribbling and Fulling Millers. It set me off, not least as I think my last job is now a defunct category….
(For more on Salt’s Mill see here )
The saggar-maker’s bottom-knocker achieved a certain longevity, if not immortality, after featuring in the 1950s TV quiz game What’s my Line?
I can recall as a child seeing job titles in the newspapers of the 1960s industrial West Riding that meant nothing to me, from burlers and menders to the new kids on the block, such as comptometer operators or punchcard operators.
Another family history moment came when I thought I’d found a relative with the unlikely (for Halifax!) occupation of “Wine drawer”. Was this a sort of butler’s post? Further thought and more careful deciphering of the handwriting elicited that my ancester was in fact a ‘wire drawer’, not such an attractive occupation, pulling metal rods through dies to make wire, nails and more.
I was quite touched on another occasion to find that only three or four generations separated me from a Corporation Scavenger, which, to be fair, I thought, was pretty much what my last Council-based job in education entailed, casting round for grants and funding! The scavenger of old was simply a cleaner, though in the textile mills of the north, it could also have been a child gleaning the bits of wool or cotton under the machinery.
In between school and Uni I worked for 6 months in a bank in Germany. One of the highlights of my time there (in the early 70s) was being trusted to ‘sub’ for the telex operatoron the grounds that I was a native English speaker rather than any typing or German skill. No-one today would believe that a 17-year-old would find it so exciting to be messaging Italy or America, but I did!
In my early childhood in West Africa we were grateful for the regular services of the night soil man who would discreetly remove the pan via a hatch in the outside house wall (on one memorable occasion the emptying took place whilst this small child was ‘enthroned’ on the seat above – a startling experience!
How many job titles around us now will not exist other than in historic information in the next few years, I wonder?
My grandmother was a seamstress; I thought that would have died pretty much by now as a term, but was pleased to see it still just hanging on in there – perhaps helped by the Great British Sewing Bee! A great-grandfather was a skip and hamper maker in 1881, basically an industrialised basket-maker. I would have thought of basket-making as a rural occupation, not something for industrial Lancashire, but of course, large baskets or skips were needed for building, mining and transporting goods.
I wonder how long my other great-grandfather’s occupation of greengrocer will survive? The 4 shops on the high street where I now live have all long gone; the name may follow them into oblivion soon, I suspect.
It’s the natural way of things to come and go, but when a word disappears, so much history goes with it, unless we make an effort to record and describe so that future generations can understand not just the job, but its context and implications.
If, like me, you can’t leave it without finding out… a strickle is an implement for sharpening scythes, or a rod for levelling off grain measures; fulling and scribbling were processes in the wool industry. Scribbling and carding straightened out the fibres and prepared it for spinning. Fulling cleaned, felted & shrank it.