O for Occupations

18 April 2016

Those who have heard my lecture on Searching for Surnames will know that I have favourite names which I (as well as, no doubt, others) have located during my years of researching. One particular lady who sticks in my mind is Ann Pepper who is actually born as Ann B C D E F G H I J K L M N O Q R S T U V W X Y Z Pepper – no joke! March quarter of 1883 in West Derby Registration District…. I am even sad enough to own a copy of her birth certificate and if anyone cares, I could tell you her entire life history. Anyway, I digress….

There are also many occupations which stick in my mind. Knocknobbler, urinator, saggar maker and even saggar maker’s bottom knocker! The mind boggles…. A knocknobbler was, in Victorian times, a churchwarden with the job of turning unruly dogs out of church. Nowadays, the term is used simply for a dog catcher and does not have to be connected to the church. In 2007, an article was published by the BBC about a Stourbridge knocknobbler who “released a book detailing his extraordinary career change – from a high powered television director to a council dog catcher“. A very interesting change of career indeed!

The term ‘urinator‘ conjures up a wide range of possibilities and I am pretty sure that Tom Daly would prefer his more ‘modern day’ title of ‘professional diver‘! Makes me wonder how on earth the term urinator came about in the first place! In the 1950’s, there was a British television panel game called What’s My Line?Contestants with unusual occupations would perform a mime of their job and then answer yes-or-no questions from four celebrities aiming to work out the contestant’s job.

The most peculiar occupation on the programme, according to Pa FWL, was a ‘saggar maker’s bottom knocker’. I was pretty sure he was having me on when he first told me, but no! It is true! During kiln-firing, saggars are used to hold and protect pottery and, by placing various substances in a saggar, it is possible to produce dramatic visual effects on the finished pottery. According to ThePotteries.org, “producing saggars to the correct specifications required was a skilled job and needs a craftsman – the saggar maker. However, making the bases of the saggars is a less skilled job which can be left to a lesser craftsman, namely the saggar maker’s bottom knocker, who makes the bottom of the saggar by placing clay in a metal hoop and literally knocking it into shape”.

Interestingly, in the 1911 census for England and Wales, there are 37 hits for ‘saggarmaker‘, nearly all residing in Staffordshire, the closest to the full ticket being James Baggaley, a “saggar bottom knocker”:

Source: 1911 census for 24 Vale Place, Hanley, Staffordshire

…. and also William Bridgwood aged 18 of Burslem, Frederick Taylor aged 14 of Hanley, and no doubt others, with the same occupation! Can you imagine meeting up with someone in this day and age and saying “I am a Saggar maker’s bottom knocker”!? I think it may be met with some hilarity!

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