Why Being A Gong Farmer Was One Of The Worst Jobs In Human History

Living in the modern world, it’s easy to take small things for granted, such as perhaps flushing the toilet and easily getting rid of waste after going to the bathroom. Have you ever thought about how a toilet worked in the middle ages? According to Smithsonian Magazine, the toilet flush wasn’t invented until 1596, but even then, it wasn’t widely used until 1851. Back then, holes in the ground were used as toilets, and if you were wealthy, you’d make use of a chamber pot or a garderobe.

The garderobe is a small room where the “toilet” is located. Of course, when we say toilet, we really mean a wooden bench with a hole that leads to a chute. As for toilet paper, well, there’s always an abundance of moss or grass to use (via World History). The chute typically leads to a body of water or in some cases, a cesspit. This is where the gong farmer comes in, in simple terms a poop farmer, whose job is to clean and get rid of the waste in cesspits.

The life of a gong farmer

The term “gong” comes from the old English word “gan” which means “to go.” Gong farmers are also called night men as they are only allowed to work at night  simply because they stink, per Newcastle Castle. Gong farmers would work in groups of three or four and go into the cesspit to collect buckets of waste, also called night soil, which they would then load into a cart. These cart-loads of excrement were then transported to a bigger cesspit outside the city limits or would be sold to farmers to be used as fertilizer for crops. Most often, small boys were also employed as gong farmers because their size allows them to easily go in and out of confined spaces.

Aside from having restricted working hours, gong farmers also had restrictions on where they could live, according to Non-Fiction Minute. Bathing wasn’t common in medieval times, and being waist-deep in excrement added to their stench. Residing away from the general public would save citizens from the horrible stench the came with gong farmers.

Hazards and pay

As expected, there were health hazards that come with being a gong farmer. Being waist-deep in excrement is certainly dangerous, as the chutes and pits have poor ventilation that can asphyxiate gong farmers. Furthermore, decaying fecal matter emits poisonous gasses that can certainly affect gong farmers who spend plenty of time in the pits, per Non-Fiction Minute.

With the health hazards associated with being a gong farmer, it’s good to know that they were paid quite well. It is said that one night of a gong farmer’s work was equivalent to what other workers earn in a week’s time. In addition to this, gong farmers sometimes find coins or jewelry that were accidentally dropped by those who used the toilet. These make valuable finds, although it’s arguable whether going through excrement with your hands is worth the small treasures.

By the mid-19th century, better waste disposal methods were used and because of that, gong farmers were no longer needed.

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