Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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22 Jan 2009

The 200 Artisan Skills Required to Make a Victorian Town Functional

The discussions that followed the publication here of the Transition Declaration of Independence, the story emerged of the list of 200 skills needed in Victorian times that appeared in the last 2 pages of appendices from “Victorian Oamaru : A vision For The Future” by Michael O’Brien, which was printed by hand and not available electronically. Thanks to Corinne for typing this up and to Ted for finding it. I’ve got my name down for pie-maker.  Insurance salesmen take note.  It is interesting to read this in the context of Richard Morrison’s comment in his column in today’s Times: “I think we may be on the cusp of the most surprising social change in our lifetimes: a rediscovery of the pleasures to be had in thrift, in simplicity and in parochialism…I wouldn’t wish the return of Spam on anyone. But the rest? A New Age of Austerity might be quite refreshing.”

So, those 200 Artisan Crafts in full…

Woodland Crafts. Coppicers, hurdle makers, rake makers, fork makers, besom makers, handle makers, hoop makers, ladder makers, crib makers, broaches and peg makers, clog sole cutters, bodgers, charcoal burners, oak basket makers, trug makers, stick and staff makers, field gate makers, willow basket makers, net makers.

Building crafts. Stone masons, joiners, roofers, floor layers, wallers, thatchers, slaters, lime burners, paint makers, glass blowers, glaziers, stained glass artists, mud brick makers, tile makers, chimney sweeps, plumbers, decorators, bridge builders, French polishers, sign writers.

Field crafts. Hedge layers, dry stone wallers, stile makers, well diggers, peat cutters, gardeners, horticulturists, vintners, arborists, tree surgeons, foresters, farmers, shepherds, shearers, bee keepers, millers, fishermen, orchardists, veterinarians.

Workshop crafts. Chair makers, iron founders, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, coppersmiths, tinsmiths, wood turners, coach builders, boat builders, sail makers, rope makers, wainwrights, block makers, leather tanners, harness makers, saddlers, horse collar makers, boot and shoe makers, cobblers, clog makers, knife makers, cutters, millstone dressers, potters, printers, typographers, calligraphers, bookbinders, paper makers, furniture makers, jewellers, mechanics, boiler makers, boiler men, soap makers, gunsmith, sword smith, brush maker, candle maker, artist, sculptor, firework maker, cycle builder, bone carver, musical instrument maker, clay pipe maker, tool maker.

Textile crafts. Spinner, weaver, dyer, silk grower, tailor, seamstress, milliner, hatter, lace maker, button maker, mat and rug maker, crochet worker, tatting and macramé worker, knitter, quilter, smock worker, embroiderer, leather worker, felt maker.

Domestic crafts. Fish smoker, bacon curer, butter maker, cheese maker, brewer, cider maker, wine maker, distiller, herbalist, ice cream maker, butcher, fishmonger, pie maker, pickle maker, baker, barrister and coffee roaster, homeopath, reflexologist, osteopath, naturopath, storyteller, teacher naturalist, historian, jester, actor, administrator, philosopher, labourer, poet, writer, midwife, publican, bookseller, librarian and idiot – there is no unemployment in this traditional model!

No doubt there are many others I have not thought of.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


22 Jan 10:19am

Thanks for getting the list posted! Of course, I’ve already been wanting to tamper with it, so I started thinking of a few more skills that must have existed in Victorian times:

Doctor, surgeon, dental surgeon, lawyer, governess, wet nurse,….

(Not that I’m a historian, so correct me if I’m wrong.)

Meanwhile, maybe a lot of the other readers can think of skills to add to the list!

Corinne in Paris

22 Jan 10:24am

Oh, and we might want a glossary for some of these skills (let alone the manual)- anyone familiar with a bodger’s work? As for the French polishers, I wonder what they were so good at polishing.

22 Jan 10:32am

Excellent- d database of all these skills and where they can learnt (if not lost!) would be great….

I found this doc a while back- a review that took place in 2005 of trad crafts

Musician and toymaker to be added to the list?

22 Jan 4:26pm

what, no sex-workers? 🙂

Bob Thorp
22 Jan 7:31pm

Has anyone on this site actually read any history – any history without a thick pair of rose tinted glasses on?

Add under-age sex workers, knacker, night soil man and workhouse superintendent to be going on with. Might also start adding in the list of industrial diseases that killed ’em young – not to mention typhoid, cholera, dystentry, polio, TB etc. Anyone want to guess at infant mortality? Hey it was great fun.

Best bit was women didn’t even have the vote and did the lion’s share of social labour – well there was no electricity. At least the kids were not under your feet – they were at work!

Really, though we should be looking for inspiration in life pre-1750 before steam engines became more widespread and the canal network led to agricultural specialisation. Most Victorian crafts (probably with the exception of those carried out in woodland) soon adapted to the use of coal, oil and gas. The worsted hand weavers, spinners and combers had all but gone from round here by the 1850s.

Jennifer Lauruol
22 Jan 9:02pm

I think there should be a whole category on medicinal/herbal/midwifery. Colonial American midwife Martha Ballard (1735-1812, whose diary was written up and commentated as A Midwife’s Tale by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, had an infant mortality rate as low as today in the UK. She was a renowned medical herbalist as well. Infant and maternal mortality rates soared as male doctors took over from women midwives, and childbirth was moved to hospitals.

22 Jan 10:04pm

Well I’m the last traditional maker of Victorian clogs. I’d be delighted to find a market for them!

Linda S
22 Jan 10:38pm

As for rose tinted glasses, the idea is not to go back to yesteryear — inequality, child labor, unsanitary conditions and all — but to take the best from what we have almost lost, combine it with what we have since learned, and create something entirely new. I like the words from the Rogers and Hammerstein song — “you’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”

23 Jan 8:09am

Ah yes, the well-known Victorian profession of reflexologist. (Did anybody else actually _read_ the list?)

Strikes me that the reason so many specialised professions were necessary may have had something to do with the fact that each trade jealously guarded its professional secrets. In the age of the Internet it’s hardly necessary for someone to spend their entire life doing one fairly repetitive job. There is scope for much greater flexibility and creativity when basic knowledge is shared instead of being closely guarded and passed down through an apprentice system.

23 Jan 8:12am

I have to say, I think this is a fascinating discussion. The tension it shows between what we take from the past and what we firmly leave there is very insightful, what David Holmgren calls ‘scavenging the rubbish heap of modernity’. As you say Robert, I don’t recall too many Victorian reflexologists, and in 21st Century Britain, I can’t see the bone carver being over-run with work….

23 Jan 12:16pm

Rose tinted? More like transition-tinted. Why asume that a revival in crafts that served us for hundreds of years (they are not Victorian- I think that is just the focus for the Oamaru) means you need to relive that time?

David Taylor
23 Jan 3:15pm

“Barrister and coffee roaster” ??????

Would that give you grounds for taking legal action?

23 Jan 4:00pm

David Taylor- HUGE GROAN!

steph bradley
23 Jan 6:01pm

thanks Rob
we’ve been compiling a lists for a while of useful skills that communities might need for the game we take into schools about visioning 2030….
but this is by far the best!

risa b
23 Jan 6:14pm

Puppeteer! And aren’t there puppet-makers … everything from sock puppets through marionettes to Howdy Doody?

23 Jan 6:26pm

The clogs are beautiful. And expensive. I just hope I have a spare $150-200 when peak oil hits!!!! YIKES!

23 Jan 7:13pm

Rob, bone carvers will be quite handy! Remember that most small things we make from plastics today were made from bone in the past. (Think dice, silverware handles, combs, etc…)

Katy Duke
23 Jan 9:50pm

I have this idea that we’ll have a list of essential skills based on these wonderful past lists, plus a current ‘must-haves’ which will inevitably include the communication network we’ve created over the years. When fuel & electricity becomes rationed in those dark years that I don’t relish but don’t fear as much as I did, we will need to decide where the resources go – there are obvious places for concentration of available liquid fuel & electricity, such as hospitals and fuel for farmers, but we do need to confront the new technology. I play a game in my head which is ‘what could I not cope without in 2035?’… at the moment (I’m not talking about people here!) it’s cheese & internet. That’s not just a product of my fatal addiction to both but an assessment of where I would like resources to go in the future… I would put bacon in there too but I think I can wean myself off that, just about…

What does that actually mean? It means that I need to learn how to make cheese in my reskilling classes & hope that we can find a limited amount of dairy farming abilities in the future, and it means that the methods of staying interconnected virtually must be so important to me, and perhaps others, that I/we need to address how to keep the network going, be that solar servers, geo-thermal cooling and all sorts of horrifically complex material production that I know nothing of.

Linda S
24 Jan 12:51am

“I play a game in my head which is ‘what could I not cope without in 2035?”
I would miss toilet paper.

pete rout
24 Jan 9:17am

I think that the internet system we have now will have to change. It is too energy dependent and the infrastructure to run it will not be easily maintained.

Celia S
24 Jan 3:01pm

fascinating to think “back to the future” – lets march forward to the future confident that we can work together to take the best with us….after all i think we have learned a lot since Victoria…
steph b- I would like to hear about your game for envisioning 2030 for school children??

24 Jan 8:47pm

Interesting article – compiling a list of skills for the future. We touch on this a lot, but actually writing down a list would be very helpful.

We looked at employment for the 22 participants we had for our energy descent action planning course and it was quite confronting for some. Would their current job survive peak oil, could it morph into something new or did they need / have other skills that could guarantee them employment in the future.

Me – aside from permaculture (teaching and practicing), I’m aiming for bee keeping, writing and knife forging.

We bring this up at our TT training sessions addressing the survivalist reaction to peak oil vs the preservationist model (skilled, supported community).

This isn’t about going back to the bad old days or as many nay sayers like to call it, living in a cave with flower in our hair (honestly these people!) – it’s about relocalising goods, services and trade and yes, we will need more craftspeople in the future.

David Holmgren has a photo on his future scenarios website of someone using a wooden hand tool. That was from (if I recall correctly) a museum in New Zealand. When he spoke to them about what they were doing – they explained they weren’t really a museum, they were seriously keeping vital skills and crafts alive for when we needed them again in the future.

I think skilling up the community is a very smart thing to do.

Make yourself useful!


24 Jan 8:50pm

And as for toilet paper… here in the subtropics we have the leaves of the yacon, the aria bush and the blossom bouquet bush.

Shane Hughes
24 Jan 9:35pm

i find the list fascinating!!.
Perhaps we could add things like;
basic solar hot water maker
passive house designer
strawbale, cob, adobe, earthship and rammed earth house builders
drinking water purifiers or gray water recyclers
windmill, bicycle, seesaw and roundabout energy generator makers
wind up technology makers etc

Although i’d love to keep the internet going, i think the fundamental element from modernity that we will need to add to this list, is intermediate or appropriate technology (using the simplest level of technology that can effectively achieve the intended purpose in a particular location). Things like non tractor dependent agriculture etc For me appropriate technology is a real mix between age old traditional craft and modern knowledge. In that respect we’ll probably have a lot to learn from developing countries.
It would be interesting to see what the Intermediate Technology Design Group would add to this list. i’ll email them and let you know.

Shane Hughes
25 Jan 8:12am


this list invokes a fear of regression for many, but to me it invokes a return to connection with materials. Like knowing where you food has come from, if we didn’t craft or make the item we would know the person who did. A one to one connection with materials. A revaluing, where the material is of much higher value than currently in our throw away culture.

The toilet paper comment is relevant. There are probably lots of highly processed and industralised items, some we’d like to keep, that we may have to look at less energy intensive processes and localised materials to deliver a similar level (or better) of quality product, or else in some aspects and for some people it will be a regression.

Michael Warren-Momaney
25 Jan 2:48pm

Being a native of Vermont and descended from farmers,I have always had an innate ability to be self-reliant when necessity required it.That being said,I find it difficult,if not impossible,to comprehend how the majority of “civilization” can go on day to day pretending to be in control of its destiny,when in fact we are slowly causing our own extinction.I sincerely hope we as a species can get our collective heads out of our backsides before it truly is too late.My one consolation has always been that we cannot “kill” Mother Earth,She will continue with or without us.It is a shame though,that even though she chose to nurture and support us,and give us the means to accomplish truly great things,that we,as a species,cannot return the favor.In the eons to come,the Gods will look back and shake their heads,wondering how we could have just thrown all this away needlessly.My heart tells me Mother Earth does not want this as an outcome,but She can always start again.We cannot.

25 Jan 4:45pm

A bodger is/was someone who made the turned parts of chairs and sold them to chair factories. I think there were still some left in England around WWII, but I imagine they are all gone now.

25 Jan 6:31pm

We could learn a great deal from how the Amish live–not only their skills, but their steady, self-disciplined lifestyle and work ethic, coupled with community celebration and mutual support.

Re toilet paper, here in the UK, and also cycling in France, there’s ample plant material usually available when wild camping or cycling–dandylion or dock leaves, sphagnum moss up on the moors, or even snow! I’ve also found sheeps wool caught on gorse bushes useful. I guess in my native California you would need to watch out for poison ivy, but surely there’s knowledge of what native peoples/early settlers/ancient peoples on the land used?

Linda S
26 Jan 1:32pm

To add to the list — we will need people with the ability to scrounge metal from junkyards and dumps and remake it into newly useful items — a cross between a blacksmith and inventor.

Shane Hughes
26 Jan 4:55pm

i take no issue with leaves for toilet role and have had the pleasure on occasion but it highlights the type of “regression” that some think we’re spouting.
This tension between past and future needs to be reconsiled with a mix of traditional and modern (appropriate) processes, crafts and technologies.

26 Jan 5:42pm

Heaven help us: “homeopath, reflexologist, osteopath, naturopath”. Those are the very *last* people we’d want in our glorious low-carbon future. You might as well add witch doctor and alchemist to that list.

26 Jan 8:08pm

Well, I agree with you, Shane. I only meant that for me it is a kind of resilience I am trying to cultivate in myself, that when I’m out of doors hiking, cycling or gardening, not to be dependent on an inside toilet. I have also learned to keep clean with half a bike bottle’s worth of water. That doesn’t mean I wish to live that way all the time, if it could be avoided; only for me, Valley Girl that I am from my childhood in California, I’ve come some way towards greater personal resilience. I’m in my 50s now, and I still sleep happily on the floor when needed. I realise there are millions of people on the planet who spend their lives sleeping on the floor, just as there are billions who are vegetarian and not dependent on the whole meat economy. It’s the principle of learning simplicity as a means of preparing ourselves that I am aiming at.

Dave Dann
26 Jan 9:55pm

Lovely to see all these comments!
Bodging was indeed the craft of roughly turning greenwood on site into furniture parts for finishing in workshops. There are certainly still a few people in England who make most of their living by green wood work. (They worked on the new Globe Theatre in London, for instance). Organisations such as Small Woods Association/Green Wood Centre and such as Devon Rural Skills Trust keep it alive. I myself have a (little used) pole lathe for green wood work. Woodland management is certainly a big issue in England.

Shane Hughes
27 Jan 8:55pm

Nice one Jennifer, I’m with you all the way!!!

risa b
27 Jan 9:39pm


Things to do after Rome burns

Coppicer, hurdle maker, rake maker, fork maker, besom maker, handle maker, hoop maker, ladder maker, crib maker, broaches and peg maker, clog sole cutters, bodgers, charcoal burners, oak basket maker, trug maker, stick and staff maker, field gate maker, willow basket maker, net maker, stone mason, joiner, roofer, floor layer, waller, carter, thatcher, slater, lime burner, paint maker, glass blower, glassmaker, wagoneer, coach driver, glazier, stained glass artist, brickmaker, tile maker, bricklayer, tiler, chimney sweep, cartographer, plumber, decorator, bridge builder, French polisher, sign writer, hedge layer, dry stone waller, woodcarver, woodcutter, cosmetologist, missionary, hunter, stile maker, well digger, peat cutter, gardener, horticulturist, vintner, arborist, tree surgeon, miner, forester, farmer, ranger, con artist, stevedore, pickpocket, warden, naval architect, shipbuilder, sailor, waiter, vaudevillian, boatwright, harbourmaster, lock tender, toll collector, confectioner, chemist, druggist, ratcatcher, trapper, poacher, highwayman, sheriff, deputy, community organizer, legislator, woollen manufacturer, nightwatchman, militiaman, tax collector, soldier, adventurer, constable, stable hand, assassin, pirate, shepherd, shearer, bee keeper, miller, witch, wholesaler, fisherman, wool broker, orchardist, tutor, veterinarian, chair maker, iron founder, blacksmith, wheelwright, cooper, coppersmith, millwright, horse breeder, horse trainer, teamster, harness maker, housewife, magistrate, tinsmith, monk, nun, priest, minister wood turner, coach builder, boat builder, sail maker, oar maker, rope maker, wainwright, block maker, leather tanner, glover, saddler, horse collar maker, boot and shoemaker, cobbler, clog maker, knife maker, cutter, housekeeper, butler, tallowmaker, millstone dresser, potter, printer, typographer, calligrapher, bookbinder, paper maker, moneylender, furniture maker, jeweller, mechanic, boiler maker, engineer, boilerman, soap maker, gunsmith, ironmonger, sword smith, brush maker, chandler, artist, sculptor, horse breaker, horse trader, ship chandler, goatherd, cowherd, canner, dentist, diver, harbour pilot, outrider, denture maker, firework maker, cycle builder, bone carver, dancer, musical instrument maker, clay pipe maker, fitter and turner, tool maker, jeweler, gem cutter, goldsmith, spinner, weaver, dyer, silk grower, tailor, seamstress, milliner, fortune teller, salter, hatter, lace maker, engraver, button maker, machinist, mat and rug maker, crochet worker, tatting and macramé worker, knitter, quilter, smock worker, mail carrier, embroiderer, ditch digger, rabbiter, leather worker, day laborourer, felt maker, fish smoker, charwoman, launderess, jailer, roper, storekeeper, stocker, stock clerk, vendor, bacon curer, butter maker, cheese maker, brewer, cider maker, seedsman, naturalist, hatter, optometrist, ophthalmologist, lighthouse keeper, surveyor, rower, drummer, market gardener, wine maker, distiller, herbalist, oyster farmer, fish farmer, ice cream maker, butcher, café owner, fishmonger, pie maker, cook, scullery maid, farm hand, handyman, boarding house operator, grocer, landlord, tinker, pickle maker, baker, mental health practitioner, paintmaker, painter, hotelier, judge, lawyer, coffee roaster, doctor, nurse, storyteller, puppeteer, puppet maker, binderyman, teacher, naturalist, historian, jester, actor, archivist, historian, ink and dye maker, editor, illustrator, administrator, poet, writer, midwife, barkeep, innkeeper, bookseller, librarian, musician, singer, village idiot.

Brad K.
28 Jan 3:17am

I didn’t see grave digger, coffin maker, funeral arranger.

It is my understanding that most of the improvement in infant survival is due to sanitation – sewage planner and health inspector.

Keep your drinking well at least 100 feet from sewage/manure/refuse/night soil, and you dramatically reduce incidence of cholera.

Oxen trainer, shaman, parchment maker, goatherd, goose girl, cowherd.

28 Jan 11:02am

Firkin good job…

Britain’s last Master Cooper (barrel maker) is looking for an apprentice if anyone wants to bite the bullet.

Alastair Simms “fashions superb wooden casks from his workshop at Wadworth Brewery in Devizes”.

Apparently – according to the Bristol Evening Post – in the first half of the 20th century there were about 600 traditional-style coopers at work in Britain’s brewery industry, bending and hammering out sturdy oak barrels for countless pints, but timber shortages and the advent of modern metal casks have all but consigned to the 21st century scrapheap a craft that dates back to the times of the Romans.

“I don’t really know why I’m the only one left. It’s one of those trades that has slowly died out over the years. Today’s beer barrels are made from stainless steel or aluminum. But for me, casks made from English oak are far better. In a wooden cask the temperature of the beer remains the same once it’s on the dray (the delivery wagon).

“But the temperature of beer in a metal cask changes after a couple of hours. We are the only commercial cooperage in the country now.”

Fancy it?

31 Jan 5:38pm

Thank you for this thread. In Portland, where I live, we already have cheerful humanure-composting specialists. They refer to non humanurers as feces-phobic. The trick is to compost above ground with sufficient duff. Our most prominent practitioner uses wood chips, which dessicate. In Britain, it may be unlikely your sewers will break, but if they do, it is good to have people who know how to make sure the chemicals plants need do not go in your rivers or to underground water sources. Those who are interested can probably go to KBOO, our local subscriber-owned radio station, and search Ole Ersson, who is an M.D. by trade, for a talk on the subject. Ole uses a thermometer to make sure he has the proper temperature, 150 to 160. For 15 years, he heated water for five this way. As for health practitioners, I would rather see a naturpath than a pusher of side-effects piled on side effects. I trust an M.D. like Ole, though. He would not prescribe that way. I imagine we will have choices between natural and industrial medicine for some time. Cheers.

Marcus Eoin
31 Jan 11:51pm

I come away with two distinctly different thoughts from this list (and the expanded list from Risa B),

On the positive side, that for anyone looking to reskill themselves now for our inevitably altered and more challenging future, the list is surprisingly long and big on choice. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’d been assuming that any kind of reskilling for a post-oil, relocalized world would involve mundanity and being forced to follow a specific line of work against one’s wishes. Looking at the list in print I realise it’s almost the opposite case. When we can no longer import products cheaply made in distant factories by exploited workers using exploited materials, the onus switches to being able to manufacture and service equivalents locally, creating opportunities for skills and careers that wouldn’t currently be viable in our economy.

Which leads me on to the negative side, looking at the list also makes me realise that in the real world I know very few people with a skill or career mentioned on the list. I can only speak for the UK here, but you could argue that in recent years the government has done everything possible (consciously or unconsciously, you choose…) to eradicate these kind of careers. When you take this into account, you realise it’s going to be an uphill struggle to reskill the thousands upon thousands of call centre workers, the entire state-employed management tier of bureaucratic non-job workers, carphone warehouse salespeople, bank staff, beauty therapists, 99% of all IT workers, 99% of shopping mall retail workers, 99% of the drinks/entertainment industry (bouncers, bar staff, DJs), music/film/tv industry, pharmaceutical industry, arms industry, car industry, the CCTV manufacture and operation services, airline industry, the construction industry (those involved in concrete box Barrat urban sprawl new town abominations, plus the whole roadbuilding thing…)…I could go on but I think you get the picture….

To misquote Crash Gordon himself, I think the UK is spectacularily badly placed to ‘weather the first skills crisis of the post-oil age’

Josef Davies-Coates
2 Feb 9:47pm

Hi Shane, nice to see you here 🙂

I like how you define appropriate technology:

“appropriate technology is a real mix between age old traditional craft and modern knowledge”

The people taking this to the extreme, and who I find incredibly inspirational are:

Check it out! (and join me in giving them $10/month to forward their important work)



30 Apr 9:27am


u dont need to visit archives for this information. there are many places in this time where you can experience pre/early industrial lifestyles today.

2 Jul 4:00am

Truth is, to survive, most successful rural people have at least 40 of these skills, and hitch up with someone who knows another 40. Specialization isn’t the answer for self-sufficiency and resilience.