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A Load of Old Tosh
July 18, 2012 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Quite Likely The Worst Job Ever: 'The men who made it their living by forcing entry into London’s sewers at low tide and wandering through them, sometimes for miles, searching out and collecting the miscellaneous scraps washed down from the streets above'

The Victorian Web has an excerpt on toshers from Allen's Cleansing the City, and a review.

Toshers were related to mudlarks, the scavengers of the tidal flats along the Thames. Some still ply their trade today, but more as a hobby than profession.

A nice overview of the reform of the London sewers is here, which concerns itself with The Great Stink of 1858. (Previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (26 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I learned about Toshers a few days ago when someone said something was "a load of tosh" and I thought it was in reference to "comedian" Danial Tosh.
posted by hellojed at 1:40 PM on July 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure - at least the toshers had the option of avoiding disgusting things they came across in the sewers. London's modern flushers have to go after it with shovels. Also, tosher direct descendents the Thames Mudlarks find some amazing things (scroll down).
posted by ryanshepard at 1:42 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just read The Ghost Map and the first chapter talks a bit about toshers, mudlarks and night-soil men (gathering human waste to ship out to farms). A whole economy of various types of gleaners.
posted by Falconetti at 1:47 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The hero of Charles Palliser's novel The Quincunx (which boasts Quite Likely The Most Complicated Plot Ever) trawls the sewers for a while. Not by any means safe or pleasant work, but there are actually worse jobs in the book. At least toshers made their own hours and decided their own rations.
posted by Iridic at 1:49 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


ok - I think I found a worse job:

Julio The Sewer Diver, one of the men who keeps the system of Mexico City flowing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:54 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]



I just read The Ghost Map and the first chapter talks a bit about toshers, mudlarks and night-soil men (gathering human waste to ship out to farms). A whole economy of various types of gleaners.


I loved this book ESPECIALLY because I had no idea how desperately the Victorians wanted to monetize their shit.
posted by liketitanic at 1:56 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Iridic beat me to the Quincunx reference. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I think he nearly out-Dickens Dickens. There's also a real estate investment scam in the book that would not be out of place today.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:57 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read about toshers in Joan Aiken's excellent children's book Midnight is a Place, and looking it up just now I discovered that it was adapted for TV decades ago which could be interesting. It certainly made the job sound pretty awful and emphasised the dangers, especially for the young apprentices they took.
posted by jacalata at 1:59 PM on July 18, 2012


Me too on Quincunx - I saved this article to read later and plan to cross reference with the stuff in the book. Man, that story was just unrelentingly miserable. I recommend the book but it's a downer and kind of bites off more than it can chew.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2012


I can think of worse jobs, but then I just get sad. (I'm thinking mostly sex workers and IT...)
posted by LordSludge at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a good bit in Bill Bryson's At Home about this. I read it recently and couldn't help but think: Pssht, Andy Dufresne was a PUSSY!
posted by es_de_bah at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2012


The ones who didn't succumb to disease were probably immune to just about anything.
posted by tommasz at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2012


There's also a character in The Truth by Terry Pratchett who began to make his fortune this way.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:05 PM on July 18, 2012


Good to see that Daniel Tosh has found a way to modernize the family business.
posted by JimmyJames at 3:13 PM on July 18, 2012


I dunno man, my job is pretty bad. On the one hand I've got to write all these e-mails, and on the other hand there's all this ennui, so, like, obviously that's pretty bad, too.

Oh, and sometimes my boss is all like, "you need to stay half an hour late to do this thing!" and I'm so mad I can barely surf the Internet for the next ten minutes.
posted by Copronymus at 4:08 PM on July 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


...sometimes my boss is all like, "you need to stay half an hour late to do this thing!" and I'm so mad I can barely surf the Internet for the next ten minutes.

I KNOW, RIGHT??
posted by LordSludge at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2012


Great post. The poor swimming in shit, just like the rich want it.

At school they taught us about kids working horrendous jobs in factories in Victorian England, and then I read 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism and he talks about when the government wanted to introduce rules about how long children should work,r the Capitalists complained it was interfering with the childs right to make money.

If this was now, it would be ran by G4S who would fuck it up big time.

"...sometimes my boss is all like, "you need to stay half an hour late to do this thing!" and I'm so mad I can barely surf the Internet for the next ten minutes.

I KNOW, RIGHT??

posted by Lord Sludge

Eponyhysterical; also is there a word that means "especially funny in this thread given the contexts"?
posted by marienbad at 4:50 PM on July 18, 2012


LordSludge - I can think of worse jobs, but then I just get sad. (I'm thinking mostly sex workers and IT...)

IT as in help desk, or the online equivalent of Toshing?

"Think like that there is a sewer channel," one moderator explained during a recent Skype chat, "and all of the mess/dirt/ waste/shit of the world flow towards you and you have to clean it."
posted by Selena777 at 4:53 PM on July 18, 2012


In Guatemala City, the very poor (in a poor country) glean from the enormous dump. I visited Safe Passage, a rather amazing program that started to help children go to school, and now offers adult literacy, family safety, and other programs, along with a school. If reading all this makes you want to help somebody, it's a worthy organization.

This thread makes me so happy I get to have clean water and decent sanitation. Of course, I'm still at work in my IT job, but when I do get home, I can have a nice shower.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2012


London Under by Peter Ackroyd is a excellent little book that talks about this and many other interesting/disgusting/sad/awesome things in the nether regions of the city. I see it's a reference for the article. Highly recommended.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:01 PM on July 18, 2012


The latest episode of London Calling includes a journey through the sewers of London.
posted by rdr at 6:01 PM on July 18, 2012


So I suppose these days it's financial planners an real estate agents.
posted by mattoxic at 9:29 PM on July 18, 2012


Eddie Mars: "Iridic beat me to the Quincunx reference. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I think he nearly out-Dickens Dickens. There's also a real estate investment scam in the book that would not be out of place today."

Important note: avoid this book if you don't like feeling miserable upon finishing a novel.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:13 PM on July 18, 2012


Come on MeFi, I was expecting at least a Pynchon reference. Now I lost the bet with myself and I have to go buy me something with money recovered from the sewers, natch.
posted by ersatz at 4:03 AM on July 19, 2012


Also, tosher direct descendents the Thames Mudlarks find some amazing things (scroll down).

Visiting that website, I think I know how it feels to have just a glimpse of the patterns of Cthulhu. The typeography! The colour scheme! It makes seeing the wonderful objects they've found feel like having to tosh them all over again.
posted by jaduncan at 10:31 PM on July 19, 2012


I love this part of the article:
That the sewers of mid-19th-century London were foul is beyond question; it was widely agreed, Michelle Allen says, that the tunnels were “volcanoes of filth; gorged veins of putridity; ready to explode at any moment in a whirlwind of foul gas, and poison all those whom they failed to smother.”
Metafilter: Volcanoes of filth!
posted by Potsy at 4:29 PM on August 3, 2012


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