The Worst Jobs in History

Touring over a thousand years worth of bad jobs in Britain

Presented by energetic host and historian Tony Robinson, The Worst Jobs in History digs through history to find the absolut worst jobs ever to have been worked in Britain.

Together with Tony, we’ll uncover life in the underbelly of history and explore these jobs through re-enactments and their stories. This includes cleaning the knight’s soiled armors after their battles, collecting human waste to extrate nitrate for gunpowder, back breaking work from building medieval cathedrals.

We’ll get acquainted with what a Toad Eater is, a Vomit Collector, a Spit Boy and a Seeker of the Dead – each job with a tremendously disgusting history.

As we explore the living standard of previous times, Tony tries being a Gong Scourer (Tudor cesspit cleaners), a Pure Collectors (Victorian pooper-scoopers) and a Resurrection Man (Georgian body snatchers).

Episode 1: Dark Ages

Episode 1: Dark Ages

Episode 1 open up for some of the worst job careers during the Dark ages between 500 AD to 1500 AD.

We’ll try the job of being a miner while using ancient Roman techniques, use Saxon ploughing methods by utilizing wooden tools and livestock and the job of a Viking egg collector. Those who faced grave danger by scaling cliff faces in search of precious guillemot eggs.

Episode 2: Middle Ages

Episode 2: Middle Ages

Episode 2 opens up for some of the least pleasant employment opportunities during the Middle Ages.

Here we’ll investigate what “fullers” did – stomping for hours every day, all day, on newly woven cloth in stale urine.

Tony also instroduces us to the leech collectors, men who risked infection by wading into marshes and letting the bloodsuckers cling to their legs.

Episode 3: Tudors

Episode 3: Tudors

Episode 3 is all about the Todor period (1485 – 1603) and its dirty jobs.

Supposedly, it was tough finding employment opportunities at this age, a lot took whatever was possible. This led to jobs like “spit boy” – where you’d potentially become roasted alive and stink of greasepaint.

Another (in)famous job of the Tudor period went by the fitting title “Groom of the Stool”. A job where’d you have the sole responsibility of wiping Henry VIII’s behind after a visit to the toilet.

Episode 4: Stuarts

Episode 4: Stuart Times

The Stuart Times from 1603 to 1714 has lots of disgusting occupations. This includes being a saltpetre – those who collected urine and dug up latrines to gather the gunpowder ingredient potassium nitrate.

Tony also investigates the petardier’s assistant, a job where you’d have to blow the gates off besieged castles, and discovers the modern violin was only made possible because string-makers rummaged for their raw materials in the guts of dead sheep.

Episode 5: Georgians

Episode 5: Georgians

Episode five takes a look at the employment opportunities during Georgian times in 1714 to c. 1837.

We’ll examine the riding officer whose job was to enforce customs laws, the artists’ nude models who were forced to remain in painful positions for hours, and orphaned children work at the Manchester cotton mills. A dangerous place where risks of being crushed to death under the enormous machines were very real.

Episode 6: Victorians

Episode 6: Victorians

Episode 6 reveals the grim occupations in Victorian Britain during 1837 to 1901.

Here we’ll see why the workhouse was possibly the most infamous place of employment in the 19th century, and a day of picking oakum reveals the full horror of this sinister location.

We’ll get an introduction to digging railways, rat-catching and perhaps the worst job of them all, the tanner. A career with a foul, rancid, stench and an almost guaranteed social rejection.

The Worst Jobs in History
  • Info
  • Release date2004
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Brendan Hughes, Patricia Murphy
  • Part of the seriesThe Worst Jobs in History season 1
  • Production companySpire Productions