A corver is not a carver

When reading old records, be careful of the difference between the occupations “corver” and “carver”. Readers may think “corver” is a mis-spelling of “carver” because “carver” is a familiar word, while “corver” typically is not. Both occupations do involve working with wood, but in very different ways and with very different end results.

A carver was, as you would probably expect, a wood-worker. He carved decorative details on fine furniture, picture & mirror frames, architectural details for buildings, and other wooden objects. If he also applied gold leaf to the objects, he might be listed in a census or a trade directory as “carver & gilder”. This was a skilled trade which would require an apprenticeship to a master before being allowed to ply your trade, and you will find most carvers living in larger cities where they could sell their skills and products to the wealthy upper classes.

If, on the other hand, your ancestor was living in a colliery village and his occupation looks like “carver”, he was probably a corver. A corf or corve was a large wooden basket used to carry coal out of the mine. A corver made and repaired those baskets, weaving them out of thin slats of flexible wood, typically hazel or willow. Here’s an extract from the Durham Mining Museum:

CORF. — A basket made of hazel, of the capacity of from 10 to 30 pecks, used for conveying coals from the working places to the surface. Leading corves are small corves, containing about 6 or 8 pecks, used for carrying stones or rubbish to a stow-board. The corves were made and kept in repair by contractors, named Corvers.

In the mid-1830s, iron tubs and cages were introduced to draw the coal up from beneath the surface of the earth. The use of corves slowly began to decline, and the occupation of corver had nearly disappeared by the 1880s.

If your ancestor was listed as a basket-weaver in one census and a corver in another (or vice-versa), it was not really such a huge change in occupation.

A patten-maker is not a pattern-maker

When reading old records, be careful of the difference between the occupations “pattern-maker” and “patten-maker” or “patten-ring-maker”. These words can look similar in old-fashioned handwriting, and transcribers often think “patten” means “pattern” because in modern parlance, “pattern” is a familiar word while “patten” typically is not. However, they are very different things.

A patten-maker made pattens, which were raised wooden clog-like overshoes designed to lift and protect the wearer’s shoes from muddy streets. A patten-ring-maker made metal rings that sat vertically under the sole of a patten to add lift. You can see a patten here:

A patten-maker might also be called a clogmaker or clogger. A patten-ring-maker might also be a blacksmith or ironmonger or iron founder at various times in his life. The occupations of patten-maker and patten-ring-maker had pretty much disappeared by 1900.

Pattern-maker was an occupation created by the Industrial Revolution, and the actual job differed depending on the type of industry. In the metal-casting industry, a pattern-maker was a person who, starting from a drawing or blueprint, made patterns used in the casting of metal parts. Typically, a very precise pattern was cut, built, or shaped from wood or metal, placed in a mould box, and sand was packed around it. Then the pattern was carefully removed and molten cast iron or steel was poured into the shape left behind in the sand to make a cast metal object. Pattern-making was a skilled trade and such people might also be called, at various times in their lives, moulders, mould-makers, or model-makers, and they might have earlier been joiners or carpenters. The occupation of pattern-maker still exists today, although computers and industrial robots have radically changed the job.

A pattern-maker in the garment industry made paper patterns used to cut fabric for mass-produced clothing.

When trying to figure out what your ancestor did for a living, the date is important – you won’t find many pattern-makers before the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s), so if you’re looking at a record from the 1750s, chances are higher that you’re looking at a patten-maker.