10 jobs you should be thankful you don’t have this Thanksgiving
If you’re between jobs or longing for something better, it helps to keep things in perspective. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought we would give you a list of jobs you should be thankful you don’t have. These are some – but certainly not all – of the worst jobs in history.
Whipping boy: Established in the British court of the 16th and 17th centuries, the whipping boy was a boy who was raised and educated with the prince, and served as a stand in for punishment when the prince misbehaved. This is because it was considered the divine right of the king to be the only one to punish a king’s son, and the king wasn’t usually around to do it himself. Friendship was encouraged between the boys, so the prince would be less inclined to be a brat if he didn’t want to see his friend punished.
Leech collector: The use of leeches for bloodletting in medicine dates back about 2,500 years and they’re still used today, though not as much. But leeches don’t just hop out of the bogs and marshes and take a bus to the doctor’s office. Someone had to go get them. The most common way to do this seasonal work was to wade in the marshes using either an animal or one’s own legs to which the leeches would attach themselves. Then you would pull them off and sell them for not particularly good money. Hazards of the trade included blood loss and infection.
Groom of the Stool: This is the guy who wiped the king’s bum and inspected the stool for parasites and whatnot in ye olde England. By the 16th century it had become one of the highest honours at the Tudor court because it allowed close and private access to the king, a coveted position. The privy chamber was the closest one could get (hence the saying to be “privy to” information not available to everyone), so it was a super privilege – so definitely not the worst job on this list. Still, you had to wipe the king’s bum. The Groom of the Stool positon was officially discontinued in the 20th Century.
Barber surgeon: According to The Worst Jobs in History, a UK TV series, being a barber in the Middle Ages was a “very gruesome way to earn a living.” These professionals were qualified to use a range of razors, knives, and scalpels, and “haircuts went hand in hand with amputation and bloodletting.” Amputations were, of course, done without the benefit of modern anesthetics and disinfectants. There was good money to be made when people came to you to cut off a limb but that didn’t happen very often and so giving haircuts was a way to make ends meet between amputations.
Medieval archer: Also according to The Worst Jobs in History, being an archer in medieval England was no picnic. If you got captured, you had your fingers sliced off. Also, at the end of battle it was the archer’s job to wander through the carnage and find the seriously injured soldiers. As there were no doctors or ambulances around, it then fell to the archers to put their fallen brothers out of their misery. That’s when “it really did become one of the worst jobs in history.”
Treadwheel worker: The building of a medieval cathedral provided a lot of awesomely bad jobs to locals, one of which was the treadmill worker. These guys powered the treadmill that moved the cranes to lift the massive stones. The cranes often broke, killing people, including those on the treadmill. Plus, it was grueling and tedious work. “Imagine walking mile after mile after mile after mile after mile after mile, and getting absolutely nowhere,” says Worst Jobs host Tony Robinson. Indeed. Treadmill cranes were also used in ancient Rome.
Spit boy: In old Tudor palaces lots of food had to be prepared for huge banquets. Kitchens, where hundreds of staff were employed, were unbearably hot because of the cavernous ovens in constant use. At the bottom rung was the spit boy, whose job it was to sit by (practically in) the oven constantly turning a spit holding hundreds of pounds of roasting meat. “Boy” is actually a misnomer since only a full grown man would be strong enough to turn the heavy spit. Hey, it may have been painful and physically taxing but at least it was also mind-numbingly boring.
Gong farmer: Gong farmer was a job in Tudor England. These guys dug out and removed human excrement from privies and cesspits. They Gong farmers were only allowed to work at night and “the waste they collected, known as night soil, had to be taken outside the city or town boundary or to official dumps for disposal.” They actually made pretty good money but they had to spend their night standing in poo, often were asphyxiated by the fumes, and were only allowed to live in certain areas. All in all a pretty crappy gig.
Resurrection man: Before laws were passed allowing the use of unclaimed or donated bodies for dissection and anatomy lectures, medical schools had to rely on the bodies of executed prisoners. But as capital punishment became less common and medical schools started popping up all over the place, a lack of bodies became a problem. Resurrection men, (or resurrectionists, or body snatchers) would therefore dig up and sell bodies. It became such a common parties that families took to guarding their loved one’s graves.
Sin eater: The details of this job are shrouded in some mystery but it seems that in 18th and 19th Century Scotland, families would place a piece of bread on the breasts of their dying loved ones and hire someone to eat it, believing that the person who ate the bread would ingest the sins of the dying person, therefore absolving the sinner. The sin eater was paid badly – a few pennies and the food – and shunned by society who believed that they became more horrible with each ceremony. I’m not clear on how a sin eater would wind up in that line of work or why.