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.