What is a Carter?

A cart with goods for the post on What is a Carter?

So what is a carter? Are you curious because your ancestor worked as a carter before WW1?  Then check out this post.  It will help you understand how your ancestor worked as a carter and where to find records about your carter ancestor.


What is a carter?

The old occupation of a carter refers to someone who had a cart and horse to transport goods.  Most importantly, they played an important role before the 1920s.  This is because they helped the movement of a wide variety of goods, such as agricultural produce, raw materials, and manufactured items.

They were either self-employed or employed by merchants, manufacturers or farmers.  Although, they were skilled workers, they did not hold the same prestige as craftsmen or merchants.  In fact, carters occupied a lower to middle class status in society. 

The term carter was used broadly, but there were regional variations in the name and specifics of the job.  For example, in Scotland, a carter might also be known as a carrier or sledder.

What was a carter’s role

  • Transportation of Goods: Carters transported goods between farms, markets, towns, and cities. This was essential for trade and commerce before the advent of railways and automobiles.
  • Maintenance of carts and animals: Carters were responsible for the upkeep of their carts and the horses that pulled them.  This included tasks such as repairing the cart, shoeing horses, feeding and grooming them. They had to follow regulations and bye-laws, just like today for cars and trucks, to maintain their cart and horse.  Here we have two newspaper articles from the early 20th century when 2 men maltreated a horse and another man who did not have his lights on his cart:
Newspaper articles about carters.
Left: Edinburgh Evening News 11 Jan 1901. Right: Musselburgh News 16 Feb1906
  • Loading and Unloading: The job involved physical labour because they had to load and unload goods from their carts.  They had to ensure that the goods were securely fastened to prevent damage during transit.
  • Route Planning: Carters needed to know the best routes to take, which could vary depending on weather conditions, road quality, and the destination.  They also needed to be aware of tolls which were many in Scotland.

They really did make the wheels of Scotland go round!

With the rise of railways, motor vehicles, and eventually trucks, the traditional role of the carter diminished.  By the mid-20th century, this old occupation disappeared.

Despite its decline, the legacy of the carter stills exists in  literature and historical records.  Identifying an ancestor who was a carter can help you understand their economic status and lifestyle.

Where to find documents relating to the carter job?

  • Archival centres: both the City of Edinburgh Archives and the National Records of Scotland hold the records on The Incorporation of Carters in Leith. Perth Archives hold documents on 1844 Applications for Carters Licences.  So it is best to check the local archives where your ancestor resided to locate records on carters.
  • Images – you can access old images of streets, people, occupations, transport from Scottish cities and towns, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.  Therefore, it is worth investigating to see if the local area you are interested in has any images.
  • Post Office Directories: the National Library of Scotland has the online post office directories for Scotland and these publication will list trades alphabetically.
Leith Post Office 1837 Directory identifying carters
1837 Pigots Post Office Directory

Other familiar records:

  • Statutory and Old Parish Registers
1812 OPR Banns/Marriage of a carter
1812 banns/Marriage of Hugh Beg and Isabel Sinclair (ScotlandsPeople OPR 692/ 20 120 11 South Leith)
  • Census returns
  • Cemetery Records
  • Valuation rolls
  • Wills and Last Testaments
  • Military records
  • Newspapers
  • Emigration records

Can you think of anywhere else?

Are you any wiser on what is a carter?

I hope so.  The carter job was an essential part of historical economies, providing the necessary service of transporting goods.  While the role has become obsolete with modern transport, its significance is evident in historical contexts.

Thank you for joining me on this journey about the carter job or occupation.  Please remember to leave a comment below and if you want me to write about a Scottish occupation, then let me know below.  Here is my last blog post on an old occupation which was on Coopers.

Good luck with your Scottish genealogy research.

Until my next post, haste ye back.


You may also like...

Horse and cart to depict What is a carter?

What is a Carter?

What is a Carter? This old occupation refers to someone who had a cart and horse to transport goods. Was your ancestor a carter?

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Receive your free guide and monthly genealogy news!

Your contact details will never be shared. 
You can unsubscribe any time but it would be nice to stay in touch :) 
Receive your free guide and monthly genealogy news!

Your contact details will never be shared. 
You can unsubscribe any time but it would be nice to stay in touch :) 
Scroll to Top