Tuesday 6 September 2011

Victorian Job Descriptions No.1

The first in what may or may not become an occasional series ... I imagine a Victorian job description ...


Your role in is to collect dust from residents of the parish, and convey it to a dust-yard for sifting and recycling. ‘Dust’ will principally contain a mixture of ash and cinders, but you will also be expected to remove any useless matter that has been placed in the dust-bin, including pieces of smashed crockery; bones; old rags; worn-out oil-cloth, bonnet-boxes, cocoa-nut matting; food scraps; broken glass; dead cats &c.

You will be filling 4-6 cart-loads of dust per day, with a minimim of a ton of dust per cart-load.

NB. You will not be required to remove night-soil from cess-pools, unless you choose to contract additional work as a night-soil man.

Line Manager
Your employer will be a dust-contractor, who owns the yard in which the dust is recycled, and has signed a contract with parish authorities to remove household waste.

You will be paid eight pence a cart-load, to be shared between yourself and a co-worker. You may choose to claim ‘sparrows’ (tips) from households, amounting to anything from 2d. to 6d. per house, or receive a modicum of beer. If the area is poor (known to your colleagues as a ‘dead piece’) or residents grudge your hard-earned gratuity, you may choose to withold your labour.

You may reasonably expect to earn a total of 20s.-25s. a week; a comparatively good wage for manual labour.

6-8 hours a day, during hours of daylight.

Householders will usually place their dust in dustbins: large, immobile, lidded brick or wooden bins, fixed against garden walls or in basement areas. In shops or properties without an area or garden, you will find assorted pails, buckets and containers, most likely stored in the cellar.

You may have heard radical hygienists recommend portable tin or zinc boxes, capable of only holding a week’s rubbish. These are not much in favour in London; you are unlikely to see one.

You will be supplied with a sturdy basket, a shovel and an open-topped high-walled cart.

You should provide your own clothing, including strong boots, knee-breeches, a smock-frock or jacket, and a fan-tail hat.


Physical skills: Bodily power and endurance.

Team Skills: You will be expected to co-operate with a co-worker in a ‘filler’ and ‘carrier’ team: one man filling the basket from the dustbin, the other taking the full basket to the cart.

Vocal Skills: Now that the traditional bell has been deemed a nuisance, you must master the street cry of ‘Dust-oy-ee! Dust-oy-ee!’ to alert householders of your approach.

No education, literacy or numeracy is required.

Considerable exposure to miasma and dirt; although the profession is reputedly remarkably healthy as a body of men.

Cinders and ashes may give your skin and clothing an unnatural grey pallor.

You may engage in ‘totting’ (searching for items of value before the dust reaches the dust-yard) but, please note, this may be considered larceny, if items have been lost rather than discarded.

‘Sparrows’/beer money (see above).


  1. Totting and sparrows? Where do I apply...

    If you could write one of these about undertakers I'd doth my cap, I can find very little - decency issues, perhaps? Or maybe the occupational duties were obvious.

  2. Strangely enough, I've never come across much about undertakers. Hmm. That feels like a challenge!

  3. The best of luck! The best I can do is the shire book 'The Victorian Undertaker' by Trevor May, but that's more about mourning and upper and lower class funerals.
    I've been looking on and off for around 18 months but have had very little luck.