Obsolete Occupations from the Middle Ages

In medieval times, many unique jobs, such as Ale-wife and Groom of the Stool, were essential but have since vanished. Discover these obsolete occupations and how historical changes led to their disappearance.

Christopher Corèdon writes about various jobs in his book A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases. Some, like Chamberlain or Blacksmith, are well-known to history fans, but others disappeared after the Middle Ages.


In the Village

A woman and a hermit with ale – British Library MS Royal 10 E. IV, f.114v

Ale was a widely consumed beverage in medieval England. One drawback, however, was that it spoiled quickly, so it had to be consumed within a few days. This led to a loose system in many English villages where people, usually women, made ale and sold it. This occupation was called Ale-wife, and local records suggest that nearly every adult female in a village participated.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the brewing process became more commercialized, reducing women’s ability to participate. Another job lost because of this change was Ale-conner, whose job was to inspect the ale.


Here are three more now-obsolete jobs that could be found in a countryside village:

Luparius: In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Kings of England offered bounties for every wolf killed. This led many men to become wolf-catchers, using packs of dogs to track down wolves. They were so successful that wolves became extinct in England by the end of the fifteenth century, ending the profession.

Warrener: Rabbit farming was big business in the Middle Ages, and many people oversaw rabbit warrens. The demand for rabbits, either for their fur or meat, has greatly declined in modern times.

Pinder: If an animal strayed from a farm, it was the Pinder’s responsibility to catch it. Better fencing has greatly reduced this problem.

In the Royal Court

As medieval kings became wealthier and more powerful, their entourages grew significantly. Among the jobs were several that people would see as odd and very specific. For example, the Epicière was responsible for carrying spices to his lord’s table; the Ewerer took water to guests at the table for handwashing; the Cokini were foot messengers; the Sewer was responsible for seating guests at a table; and the Focarius, a boy, ensured the hearth fire in the Great Hall was kept burning.

Servants working in a kitchen – British Library MS Add. 42130, f.207v

Perhaps the most distasteful job when working for a king was the Groom of the Stool. He had to empty the royal chamber pot after each use. Having such an intimate responsibility meant that he would likely be close to the king most of the day, so he had to be someone the monarch knew and trusted. Fortunately, with the invention of indoor plumbing, this job became redundant.

More Obsolete Medieval Jobs:

Cofferer: A craftsman who made chests.

Fuster: This person did not make horse saddles, but rather the frame on which saddles were made on.

Lorimer: Another person who had a very specific job related to horses. He made the metal pieces used for a horse’s bridle and stirrup. But he did not make spurs, as that job belonged to the Spurrier.


Collier: A charcoal maker.

Parchmenter: Specialized in buying and selling parchment, they saw their business plummet with the growth of paper.

The Pardoner, from Ellesmere Manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – Wikimedia Commons

Pardoner: In the thirteenth century the Catholic Church came up with the idea that they could should try to sell ‘indulgences’, basically a note forgiving someone for their sins. Being proactive, the church even hired clerks or friars to travel about and sell these indulgences. Pardoners were widely hated for their role in this money-making scheme, but the practice continued until it was abolished by the Pope in 1562.

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases, by Christopher Corèdon with Ann Williams, contains about 3400 entries, with many of them related to occupations. You can buy it on 

See also: 10 Medieval Jobs That No Longer Exist