07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Unique Victorian Professions

by Kate Rothwell

I’ve been thinking about heroes and professions lately. Since most of my books are historical, I’ve done some research found plenty of jobs that sound exotic to a modern audience.

Of course, once some of the professions are described, they might not strike you as…romantic.

Victorian rat catcher.
Except don’t reject them out of hand. I wrote an article for Heroes and Heartbreakers about strange professions for romance heroes and I pointed out that if Judith Ivory can make a rat-catcher (Mick in The Proposition) one of the best romance heroes ever, why not try for something different?  Here’s a partial list: 

The canals, for a brief time a busy, vital part of Victorian life, spawned professions that vanished with the age. On the canal you’d find a…..

Hobbler--A person who was employed to tow a boat on the rivers or canals or who worked the locks.
Horse Marine--Man-handled barges on canals when horses could not be used.
Narrow boatmen--these boats became rare after 1840 when the railroads began to cut into canal trade. 

Men stopped working alone. Families that had been living ashore moved onto the boats. (They might not have made as much money but they did better than factory workers.) Those narrow boats grew wider, I guess!

Other jobs:
Lamplighter --A hero in my latest as-yet-unpublished novella was a lamplighter. My guy was a switch man versus the lighter who dealt with fishtail lamps. I’m not exactly sure what that means, other than the fact that he didn’t have to climb a ladder every day and his lighter pole had a simple hook on the end. I assume it’s a matter of having to trim a wick and strike a flint to make a flame versus simply turning the gas-lamp on.
Swan Upper--these people still exist, although it’s not precisely a profession. They do an annual census and count swans for the queen (according to tradition, she owns all the mute swans on the Thames). Nancy Butler had a fabulous bird-tending hero in The Keeper of the Swans, a book from 1998.
Aeronaut--A balloonist or a trapeze artist in the circus or music halls. Fairly easy to figure out but I included it because it sounds intriguing!
Bang-beggar--An officer of the parish who controlled any stranger’s length of stay in a parish. Basically a cant name for a constable. Though the job is listed in the 1891 census, these guys are associated with earlier times.
Chair-Bodger--traveling chair repairman
Gauger--A customs official who measured the capacity of imported barrels of liquor to calculate the customs duty.
Knockknobbler--A dog catcher.
Wabster--a weaver. The hero of Mary Webb’s book Precious Bane, Kester Woodseaves, is a weaver and that’s definitely a romance!
Whacker--A horse or oxen team driver.
Yatman--A gate keeper.
Toshers at work.
Tosher--as the Smithsonian magazine said, possibly the worst job ever. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/quite-likely-the-worst-job-ever-319843/ These were the sewer hunters. They fished for treasure in London’s most disgusting sludge.

In case you’re curious, I got these ideas from a great book from 1940 called Ghosts of London by H.V. Morton and from the 1891 census http://www.census1891.com/occupations-a.htm , a collection of the occupations or job descriptions of the people living in London in the 1890's.


Kate Rothwell is an award-winning author who also publishes under the name Summer Devon. She writes romances of all sorts, but her favorite genre is Victorian-set romance. The heroes in her historicals include two New York City cops, an ex-Pinkerton man, a newspaper publisher, and a lamplighter--as well a few of the more usual gentlemen and aristocrats. With Bonnie Dee she’s created a psychic, a spy, a detective, a diplomat, a carnival owner, a bailiff, and several ne’er-do-wells.

Kate is published with Kensington, Simon and Schuster, Samhain, Ellora's Cave, Total-e-bound, Liquid Silver, Loose Id, Carina and on her own.

Kate's latest book, The Gentleman's Madness is available now from Samhain Publishing.

An imprisoned heart finds escape in forbidden love. 

No pride. No privacy. No hope.

Academic John Gilliam thought being caught embracing another man was the worst that could happen. Until he agrees to "treatment" at an asylum, where a vicious attack leaves him shaken and afraid.

But having all means of writing or reading taken from him... That is a serious threat to his sanity. Then a moment of kindness from an asylum attendant begins to restore his dignity.

Sam Tully feels sorry for the patient everyone calls "the professor", but with a back injury that cost him his job on the docks--and without the education that would have bettered his position--he tries to keep his head down, and a tight lid on his attraction to men.

As John prays for freedom, he grows closer to the gentle, innately intelligent Tully. In spite of themselves, forbidden attraction leads to touches, kisses, and more. But there's something other than curative treatments going on at the asylum. When John and Tully uncover a heinous conspiracy, their very lives are in danger.

Warning: Contains heinous crimes and frightening treatments--oh, and some sweet and loving sexy times between two healthy, not-crazy men.

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