Tuesday, October 25, 2011

List of Old English Occupations - Tuesday's Tip

If you have ancestors from England and you've found an occupation listed on the census but you're not quite sure you know what it means, you may find List of Old English Occupations helpful. Even if you think you know what your ancestor did based on the name of his occupation, you may not be correct. If you don't find your ancestor's occupation on the list at this site you may still find the site interesting or amusing. There are 40 screens of definitions listed.

These occupations and their definitions gave me a chuckle:
  • buss maker: maker of guns ("Buss" is an old English word meaning "kiss.")
  • funambulist: tightrope walker (Fun, that is, if you don't mind heights.)
  • honey dipper: one who extracted raw sewage from catch basins and out-houses (Some honey!)
  • secret springer: one who made watch springs (Yes, a watch spring is so small that it would seem like a secret.)
  • zythepsarist: brewer (I hope the brewer didn't sample his brew too often or he probably had trouble stating his occupation.)

In the 1841 England census the occupation of my great-great-grandfather, Abel Armitage, was noted as
I have trouble deciphering those words. Could it be "Hordes Keeper" or "Horses Keeper" or "Heorde Keeper" or . . . . Unfortunately, I didn't find anything similar in the occupations list above. That's why I say you may find the list helpful. (If you have an idea what those two words are, please leave a comment and tell me. Thanks!)

In the 1851 England Census, Abel was listed as a rail porter. From the list of occupations, a porter was a door or gate keeper. Was there some transition from his keeping responsibilities in 1841 to his rail porter (door keeper) responsibilities in 1851?

Michael and Janet Wood are the compilers, keepers, and copyright holders of Old English Census Occupations and host the list on their website, World Through the Lens. They also offer Genealogy Index and Family History Sources.


  1. well I googled "hoerde keeper" and accrding to various Ango-Saxon dictionaries it's a shepherd, watcher, keeper...

  2. Frances,

    Now why didn't I think of that?! I google practically everything else. It does seem strange to have a shepherd in a coal-mining town but I suppose they needed sheep as much as anyone else. Thanks for telling to me.

  3. I suspect that it was "horse keeper" (the enumerators were often a bit slap-dash about spelling) which would be more likely to progress into a rail porter once the railway age came. Interesting stuff.

  4. Alan, thanks for the that suggestion. I actually hadn't thought of it but it does make sense. It also seems to make a good transition from one occupation to the other.

    Claudia, he either worked on a railroad or in a coal mine. In subsequent census his occupation was listed as coal miner.


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