The knocker upper – waking workers up in the industrial age


Westclox alarm clock
Two alarm clocks from the 1920s
We had a knocker-up, and our knocker-up had a knocker-up
And our knocker-up’s knocker-up didn’t knock our knocker up
So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up
‘Cos he’s not up. Source

During the early days of the industrial revolution a certain practice lasted well into the 20th century. These were days before alarm clocks were affordable and reliable when workers had to rely on professions that we would not think would ever have been considered mainstream work.

One of these professions was the person whose job it was to wake people up. The profession is sometimes referred to as the knocker-upper. It was the job of the knocker-upper to make sure people got to work on time. Large numbers of these persons worked in the industrial centers of England and Scotland where the poor could not afford their own watches.

They were often women or the elderly but occasionally police constables would work as knocker uppers to supplement their income. Aided with a long stick the knocker upper would tap on the bedroom window and proceed to the next customer’s house. He or she would not dawdle, 3 or 4 taps and they would be swiftly on their way. Other methods were often used; a rattle, or soft hammers and even pea shooters.

With a long stick the knocker upper would tap 3 or 4 times
With a long stick the knocker upper would tap 3 or 4 times

My how times have changed. How do you get yourself up in the morning?