Occupational hazards…

I do a fair bit of slightly desultory genealogy and also quite a lot of transcription work for a family history society. I admit I’m probably not the fastest kid on the block with either, as I do tend to go down rabbit holes when I come across mysteries or something intriguing. Add to that the small pleasure of serendipitously coming across & following up things that amuse me, and you’ll see I can be endlessly diverted! I thought I’d just pass on a few of the more obscure occupations that have crossed my meandering path of late.

The cotton and woollen industries of the Pennines and elsewhere are ripe sources of sometimes esoteric, now mostly lost, trades. In the 1861 census I found 11-year-old Jane Farrow living in Rochdale, with the occupation of ‘Reacher-in of Ends’, more usually done by small boys. The drawing-in frame was part of a weaving machine and the Reacher-in would pass the ends of the threads, one by one and in order, to the Loomer who would then thread them over the healds (heddles) and through the reeds on the beam. Her older brother and sister also worked in textiles as Woollen Mule Spinners.

Salt’s Mill:, Saltaire Run the Chain.
Image: Ruth Bourne

Another Farrow, Emma, aged 20 in 1861, born in Heptonstall, Yorkshire and by now living in Rochdale, has a deceptively charmingly-named occupation of Throstle Piecer, Cotton. The Throstle was a spinning machine which was supposedly named for the sound it made, though I doubt it was as soothing as thrush song! A Piecer’s job was to rejoin broken threads during spinning, dodging machinery all the while. A Spinner would often employ their own children directly, keeping the money in the family.

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
Image: Ruth Bourne

Whilst we often assume a division of cotton in Lancashire and wool in Yorkshire, the trans-Pennine trades do cross boundaries. In 1871 in Halifax, one household has both a Cotton Throstle piecer and a Woollen Jobber. A Jobber does minor repairs to drawing frames, spinning mules or other textile machinery, and does other ‘odd jobs’ under the direction of the overlooker (supervisor) of his department.

A 1909 baptism record from Halifax shows the father’s occupation as Hoist Tenter, who attends to the working of a hoist and is often also a Bobbin Carrier, taking bobbins of thread to the looms ready for use by the weavers. Any weaver without a constant supply of thread and relying on piece work would be very unhappy!

Loom, Kidderminster Carpet Museum.
Image: Ruth Bourne

Thomas Robertshaw of Northowram is listed as a Carpet Taker-in. Apparently this role has a lot of names in various contexts, including Loomer, Warp Taker-in and the more common Drawer. The Taker-in attaches the weaving beam to the drawing-in frame, and draws each warp yarn separately, with a hook, through the eye (or loop) of the heald, and through the dent of the reed in a loom.

A motley mix of professions from some Halifax school admission logs ca 1871 includes:-

  • a Horse Clipper (who would hand-clip and also singe the coats, manes and tails):
  • a Tin-man, which instantly conjures up the Wizard of Oz these days but refers either to a tinker/tinsmith or by extension, to a tinware seller:
  • and an Iron Shingler, who would process wrought iron as it was removed from the furnace.
Iron Shingler: shingling hammer at work at Coatbridge’s Waverley Works in 1920. Courtesy of CultureNL https://www.culturenlmuseums.co.uk/SIModes/Detail/21249

In 1911, Thornton Holdsworth in Bradford is a Store and Time Keeper, which at first seemed redolent of Dr Who but, more mundanely, a Time Keeper turns out to be someone who records the time of entry and departure of workpeople in a book or has charge of timekeeping clocks and check boards and who superintends “clocking” in and out and related jobs, then passing on the information to the cashier for wages.

I liked the domestic details of the 1871 Chair Bottomer and the Clothes Prop Maker, both of which no doubt need explaining to anyone younger than I am. (I have a childhood memory of running out behind my grandmother’s terraced house to help hold up one of the already overlong clothes props that held up the washing lines cross-crossing the narrow back street so that a van could drive along without taking the laundry with it!) The Chair Bottomer would probably have been a caner as depicted here, or just possibly a carpenter who would adze the shaped wooden seat of a chair.

A 1911 Tripe Dresser sounds slightly Monty Pythonesque now that tripe has pretty much disappeared from much of the country’s menus. Another one from the textile side that sets the mind to some strange visualisations is this Under Overlooker (Spinning) (i.e. deputy supervisor of the spinning department) from a 1910 record.

I’ll finish this on another Halifax entry, as I found some Wire drawers in my own family background. These made wire by drawing a metal rod through a series of ever-reducing holes. I am trusting that this particular entry refers to the gauge of the wire rather than the intellectual capacity of the workman – Thick Wire Drawer!

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