The Worst Jobs in History: ISBN 0 7522 1533 7

Boxtree 2004

Tony Robinson has set out to investigate life in the underbelly of history. Whether it’s swilling out the crotch of a knight’s soiled armour after the battle of Agincourt, risking his neck on a bleak cliff collecting guillemot eggs or, as “Groom of the Stool”, going to places where none of Henry’s VIII six wives would venture-Tony endures it all to get the bottom (quite literally) of the story.
Covering the Roman Invasion to the reign of Queen Victoria, Tony uncovers how-behind all the great men and women who have made the headlines – there has been an unseen army undertaking hard, dangerous and unpleasant work. The very names ‘powder monkey’ ‘seeker of the dead’ and ‘spit boy’ underline the fact that the past is a different and fairly disgusting country. The gunpowder plot draws Tony to the role of the ‘saltpetre man’ who collected human waste for its nitrate content to turn into gunpowder. In the same vein, he looks at some of the worst jobs behind the building of great medieval cathedrals and at the dire conditions on Nelson’s Victory where the most common form of retirement was being sewn into your hammock with a couple of cannon balls and dropped over the side. Then there’s the impact of the industrial revolution, a source of wealth and power for the few, but a cornucopia of lousy jobs for the many.
Richly illustrated with artwork and photography, The Worst Jobs in History really gets into the grime of how life was for the ordinary people and shows how society would literally have ground to a halt without them. By turns disgusting, dangerous, painful, exhausting and humiliating, or a combination of them all, Tony Robinson brings Gong scourers ( Tudor cess-pit cleaners) pure collectors ( Victorian pooper-scoopers) and Resurrection men ( Georgian body-snatchers) blinking into the limelight to provide a vivid and alternative history of Britain.