The Worst Children’s jobs in history at Quarry Bank Mill


About Manchester visits Quarry Bank Mill and sees an exhibition which makes our 21st century problems pale into insignificance and speaks to the man Sir Tony Robinson who inspired it.

I’d never heard of a Gong-scourer’s Boy. It certainly wasn’t a person responsible for cleaning the instrument hit to call the wealthy to their dining tables.

No they were hired to clean the private sewers of the wealthy, crawling down into the narrowest parts of these cesspits and scoop out the stinking sludge.

Along with Mule scavengers, children hired to crawl under the moving parts of a textile mill’s machinery with a brush and remove any bits of cotton fluff that drifted beneath it before the mile made its return journey or Hurriers who were children who worked in pairs to move carts of coal through deep, narrow tunnels, it joins a list of some of the worst children’s jobs from the past.

Now a new exhibition at Quarry Bank Mill which opener at the weekend will allow children and adults to try out The Worst Children’s Jobs in History.

Inspired by Sir Tony Robinson’s captivating Worst Jobs series and Quarry Bank’s amazing archive, children will be able to test their mettle against some of the most exhausting, dirtiest and disgusting jobs imaginable.

“This experience will tell you things you probably didn’t want to know about the back-breaking, puke-inducing bits of being a child in the past,” said Kate Picker, of the National Trust.

“We have recreated some of the jobs that used to be part of the daily life of child workers at Quarry Bank and given them a modern twist.”

Sir Tony Robinson, famous for television roles in Blackadder and his Time Team, attended the launch and About Manchester spoke to him:

Tony has always been interested in social history, inspired in part of the stories his parents told him of their lives prior to World War 2.He made the Tv series, the worst jobs in history after a conversation while working on a project in France on Agncourt.Tony asked the researchers how the warriors managed to go to the toilet and was told they simply went in their armour and then retuning to the camp, a young apprentice would have the job of cleaning it.He flippantly said that must be the worst job in history and the title stuck.

He soon realized that some of the worst jobs could only have been done by children, because of their size, and because you don’t have to pay them very much.The sours children’s jobs in history was written in tandem with the original book, which of course went on to be a TV series.

Tony has had a strong association with Quarry Bank Mill over the years filming various aspects of historic life so when they wanted to do an exhibition on the worst children’s job’s, it was a marriage made in heaven.

“if we don’t get the message of history across, then we are doomed to repeat it”,  says Tony.”Some people will say I am not interested in history, well good luck to them,….it does sadden me that people have been alienated from history, due to the fact that often they were not taught it well” he adds.

As to the worst jobs, despite everything, Tony concludes that we are living in the best of times, “your roof is unlikely to collapse, the rain is unlikely to come through, we won’t be bitten by flea bearing animals and contract terrible diseases, and we are likely to be warm.”

“None of those things were the case in human history, and to get the perception that we are really lucky today is very important, and you cannot really appreciate your life unless you get that message across.”

Our twenty first century problems, how to cope with bad phone reception, what to do with three remotes, pales into significance, he concludes.

Child workers were the backbone of the mill at Quarry Bank and carried out such jobs as catching moles, scaring birds and twisting cotton.

Much of the work took place in the mill and was often dangerous as well as dirty.

Piecers had to dodge the moving machinery of the spinning mules as they stuck together broken pieces of cotton while stokers’ skin would burn as they shovelled coal into the boiler.

During the May half-term, visitors can take an interactive worst jobs quiz and find out whether they would be hired or fired, and throughout the summer holidays there will be themed events focussing on ‘worst job’ challenges.

The Worst Children’s Jobs in History runs from 29 April until 10 September. For more details go to