Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-Catcher, after 25 Years’ Experience
February 8, 2012 3:02 PM   Subscribe

In placing before my readers in the following pages the results of my twenty-five years’ experience of Rat-catching, Ferreting, etc., I may say that I have always done my best to accomplish every task that I have undertaken, and I have in consequence received excellent testimonials from many corporations, railway companies, and merchants. I have not only made it my study to discover the different and the best methods of catching Rats, but I have also taken great interest in watching their ways and habits, and I come to the conclusion that there is no sure way of completely exterminating the Rodents, especially in large towns. If I have in this work referred more particularly to Rat-catching in Manchester that is only because my experience, although extending over a much wider area, has been chiefly in that city, but the methods I describe are equally applicable to all large towns.

Yours truly,



posted by timshel (33 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
A man straight out of Pratchett.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:09 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

H.C. Barkley's Studies in the Art of Rat-catching, published two years before Ike Matthews' book, appears to be written with similar panache.
posted by timshel at 3:11 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

on the very first page:

In the first place my advice is—never poison Rats in any enclosed buildings whatever. Why? Simply because the Rats that you poison are Drain Rats, or what you call Black Rats, and you can depend upon it that the Rats that you poison will not get back into the drains, but die under the floor between the laths and plaster, and the consequence is that in a few days the stench that will arise will be most obnoxious. And there is nothing more injurious than the smell of a decomposed Rat.

Yes. I tried to find an online copy of the short story "Sunday" by Ted Hughes which is in his book of poems and short stories, Wodwo. Not even google books. Shame. It's about a pub in a small English village that for entertainment on Sundays in the afternoon hired a local man who had no arms to catch rats in his mouth that were turned loose inside the bar for him to chase. This was how the fellow made his living. It is a great story if a bit macabre. Hughes was often not safe for small children.
posted by bukvich at 3:11 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm only partway through, but I can honestly say this is one of the most compelling things I've ever read. Did anyone else read The Whipping Boy as a youth?
posted by resurrexit at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2012

I had a hard time reading that without imagining Tony Robinson as Baldrick.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:16 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have this book. It is the best management book I own.
posted by graftole at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

On page four:

Now to deal with the different methods of catching Rats. The best way, in my opinion, is,


posted by rory at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2012

When he caught the live rats per someone's request (he speaks of ten or twelve dozen sometimes), what was the primary use for them back then? I have some guesses, but does anyone know?
posted by resurrexit at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2012

If the Rat-catcher’s efforts commend themselves to such gentlemen, and he always maintains a respectable appearance, he will obtain some very nice outings in the country. Oft-times a party of gentlemen have sent for me in the summer, having arranged with me to bring four or five ferrets and Ratting appliances, and we have gone 50 miles up the country. They would bring their terrier dogs, and we would hunt all along the brooks and rivers, and round the corn and wheat fields, putting the Rats we caught into the cage, and after lunch, taking the Rats to a meadow and coursing them with their dogs, which I think it real good sport. We would put up at the best hotels and repeat the procedure next day, very often taking a drag or coach, and driving ten or a dozen miles farther up the country.

Okay seriously how do I pursue a full-time career as a Rat-catcher? Because overall this sounds AWESOME.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2012


They called it "ye olde fantorvm."
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2012

You can go home at 12 o’clock, and be sure to be in the place by 6 or 7 a.m., for many a Rat caught in the trap by the front leg will, if it gets time, eat off its leg and get away again, and they are very cunning to catch afterwards.
posted by rory at 3:29 PM on February 8, 2012

"...taking the Rats to a meadow and coursing them with their dogs, which I think it real good sport."

That sounds like a variety of rat-baiting. Shame.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:39 PM on February 8, 2012

That sounds like a variety of rat-baiting. Shame.

I have referred to the Rat-catcher obtaining good pay. The reason he commands such a big price for his work at the present time is because there is not much sale for live Rats. p. 51The trade is not what it was some years ago when Rat-pits were allowed. I think it was one of the worst things they ever did for this country when the authorities stopped the Rat pits, for when Rat killing was allowed in pits, it was a common thing for a Rat-catcher to receive an order for 100 Rats, all to be killed at one time; then the Rat-catcher would get the Rats and wherever he got them from he was ridding that district of a nuisance. But when the authorities stopped Rat-pits and Rat-coursing, the consequence was that the Rat-catcher left the Rats to breed in thousands. Rats being vermin, I don’t see why they should not be killed 50 or 100 at a time in the pit, but the Humane Society maintain that it is cruelty to dogs to put them in a pit with a lot of Rats. I don’t see where the cruelty comes in, but from what I have seen of Rat-pits during my time I approve of them, and I think if they were in existence again there would be a clearing of many thousands of Rats.
posted by timshel at 3:43 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Brought to you courtesy of the public domain. I'm surprised Disney hasn't turned it into a heartwarming animation.

Oh, wait.
posted by rory at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Fans of the aforementioned rat catching tomes should not forget Crispin Glover's appropriated work Rat Catching, of which he gives a truly remarkable reading here.
posted by eschatfische at 3:46 PM on February 8, 2012

Sorry, make that here.
posted by eschatfische at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Was this the basis for Crispin glover's "Rat Catching?"
posted by tylerfulltilt at 3:51 PM on February 8, 2012

More on rat-baiting:
The next customer had a very young dog that he wasn't sure of; so he ordered for it a rat with the "teeth drawed." Except from the mouth of a mad dog it is difficult to imagine a more ticklish bit of dentistry than that of extracting the incisors of a full-grown rat. But, to my astonishment, Mr. Skunko made light of the job. Catching the creature somehow by the throat, he forced open its mouth, and, as far as I could see, with no other implement than his strong thumb-nail, wrenched out as many teeth as he pleased, and then flung the poor mutilated rat into the pit to be mumbled and worried by the savage puppy - the result so pleasing the puppy owner, that the tooth-drawing process was repeated again and again.
posted by unliteral at 4:08 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

More on Victorian Catchers of Vermin.
posted by Zed at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2012

Brings to mind the ever-macabre Roald Dahl's excellent short story, The Ratcatcher (search for the story's title, then scroll down a couple pages).

"D'you usually carry rats around in your pockets?"

"Always got a rat or two about me somewhere." With that he put his free hand into the other pocket and produced a small white ferret.

"Ferret," he said, holding it up by the neck.

The ferret seemed to know him and stayed still in his grasp.

"There's nothin'll kill a rat quicker'n a ferret. And there's nothin' a rat's more frightened of either."

He brought his hands close together in front of him so that the ferret'snose was within six inches of the rat's face. The pink beady eyes of the ferret stared at the rat. The rat struggled, trying to edge away from the killer.

"Now," he said. "Watch!" His khaki shirt was open at the neck and he lifted the rat and slipped it down inside his shirt, next to his skin. As soon as his hand was free, he unbuttoned his jacket at the front so that the audience could see the bulge the body of the rat made under his shirt. His belt prevented it from going down lower than his waist.

Then he slipped the ferret in after the rat.
posted by lostburner at 4:41 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, I really could have used these instructions a few years ago when I lived in a rat infested cabin. They are smart creatures, and no fun to live with (unless as friendly pets).

We took to hunting them, indoors, with flashlights and a highpowered bb gun. More entertainment than an effective control method though.
posted by soy bean at 4:44 PM on February 8, 2012

Can't help but think of Charlie Kelly and his rat stick.
posted by kcds at 5:32 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a damn shame the Turtleman will never narrate with quite this much style. He's awfully close though, if you remember that the Rat-catcher was only using the vernacular of his time. LIVE ACTION!

Animal Planet is singlehandedly reaffirming almost every redneck stereotype I've ever heard about the South.
posted by maryr at 6:33 PM on February 8, 2012

I've lived iwth rats for years as pets (none right now) and they are extraordinarily intelligent and rather affectionate (and clean) creatures although they do piss on you rather a lot. Their biggest quirk is that they are entirely focused on the boundaries to their environment -- not the least bit interested in the room, only how to get out of it. That's actually one of the reasons we stopped keeping them, because no cage is big enough, even a house. They want out.
posted by unSane at 8:42 PM on February 8, 2012

Actually, it looks like Crispin Hellion Glover's Rat Catching was based off the book timshel mentioned.

....either way, Rat Catching is awesome. I love his books. Oak Mot is really good too.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 9:33 PM on February 8, 2012

Always have your gun made at your gunmaker’s to your own liking.
Always be prepared for the worst of weather, and be sure to have good strong boots.
Never have your gun on full cock while walking about, especially whilst going through a fence.
Never stand too close to a burrow, and don’t be too eager to shoot.
Always have your gun pointed upwards to the clouds or down to the ground.
Never shoot at a rabbit as it sits on the top of the hole, or you might shoot the ferret. Always stand so that all the shooters can see one another.
Never remove from where the gamekeeper places you.
Never have your gun barrels up while it is raining.
When you go out in the country always provide yourself with refreshments before starting.
If you miss an easy shot don’t blame the gun.
Don’t be too excited, and get well on the rabbits before you pull.
If the keeper’s dog is retrieving rabbits never attempt to take one from it.

Words to live by.
posted by arcticseal at 10:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Always have your gun made at your gunmaker’s to your own liking."

Okay, and I'll be needing the red LED ammo counter somewhere around here ...
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:47 AM on February 9, 2012

I love the use of the Lancashire / Yorkshire phrase "give over" meaning "stop doing" here:

"... for if you make much noise they will give over feeding."

I think there can't be much surviving writing from this period, at least not the kind intended for public consumption, by normal working class people.

Thanks for this. That's my evening done.
posted by grubby at 5:37 AM on February 9, 2012

Come to think of it, I should wear me rattin' 'at to read this.
posted by grubby at 5:41 AM on February 9, 2012

A magnificent companion piece to Vanity Fair.
posted by maniabug at 9:19 AM on February 9, 2012

My great uncle was a rat-catcher for the council... he always found it hilarious that towards the end of his career his employers gave him the job title of 'pest control officer' as obviously 'rat catcher' was not really pc.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:26 AM on February 9, 2012

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