Do You Wake Up Early And Always Get Up On The Right Side Of The Bed?

Samuel Reason | December 25th, 2017

Then you would have been well suited to be a knocker-upper!

Even though the invention of the alarm clock goes back to the time of ancient Greeks, they were not really a gadget that the everyday working man could afford back in the day. And at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain if you wanted to get paid, well you needed to make it to the factory on time. So how did those workers do it? They hired a knocker-upper.

This enterprising group of early birds made their living by waking you up for work. Up until the 1970s, many workers would wake up to the sound of tapping on their window or banging on their door. On the street the Knocker-Up would be walking down from house to house with a long stick, banging on their customer’s windows.

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It was a very common sight, especially in the northern industrial towns like Manchester or Bradford where people worked in shifts. It was also a notable profession in London where dockers slept and had very unusual hours due to the various tides of the river Thames. The profession spread out hugely in areas where the poorly paid factory workers could not afford their own watches but would lose their job immediately if they missed a shift.

They are even featured in Charles Dickens book Great Expectations, which notably also describes the story of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders.

The long stick method was actually quite ingenious, you see initially knocker uppers would ring doorbells and bang on doors. But they quickly realized they were waking up some people for free! Sometimes neighbors of a paying customer were just relying on them also to be woken up. So they made the window tapping stick which would be loud enough to wake up their paying customer but would not disturb anyone else. There are even reports of some knocker uppers shooting peas at their customer’s windows, with pea shooters!

Mostly it was a profession that ran in the family, though it was also a way the elderly could keep working. And who woke up the knocker uppers? No, they were a group of night owls. Normally the knocker-upper would sleep through the day and wake up at around 4 PM in the afternoon. Though there are also some reports of constables being knocker uppers, as a way to supplement their police pay, they would wake people up on their first round.

Once alarm clocks became cheaper, the profession quickly died out. However, they did continue for a couple decades in a specialized capacity. Some railway depots used them to call in workers for last-minute cover shifts before telephones.

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