Monday, 13 April 2015

The Victorian Knocker-Upper

Having trouble getting up in the morning?
Having just had a fantastic few days away, I’m struggling to get back into routine. What could be more of a rude awakening than a hateful alarm clock?

But what if there were no alarm clocks? Bliss, might be your response. But what if keeping a roof over your head and feeding your family meant getting up on time. And in Victorian times that often might rising in the pitch black of night, without even the dawning sun to alert you to the time.
The problem was that in the 19th century a pocket watch or clock were expensive items to purchase, and something that many working class people simply couldn’t afford. After the industrial revolution when people did shift work in factories, the problem of getting up on time was even more acute.

But as is so often the case, where there’s a need someone steps in to supply demand. Enter the “knocker-upper”. This enterprising individual invested money in a timepiece, and then armed with a long pole and a lantern, wandered the streets at night to alert his customers when it was time to rise.
The long pole was used to tap on first floor or hard to reach windows, with some knocker-uppers seemingly using a peashooter for the same purpose.
A female knocker-upper using a pea-shooter
A typical fee was one penny a month,  and for that the knocker-up would be there outside their window at the appointed time to tap on the windowpane with the end of his long cane. The conscientious knocker-up gave an undertaking not to leave until the occupant had proved they were awake. 

And if you think this sounds an unlikely way to make a living, consider how many people needed to get up early. In Baldock, Hertfordshire, had a population of around 2,000 people, and many of the workers were employed by the railway and brewing industry – which meant shift work and early starts. Indeed, there were not one but three local breweries, that all employed draymen whose day started at 3 am so there was plenty of work for a knocker up, who went to bed once everyone else was up.

Knocker-upper continued to do their duty through to the 1920s, indeed, the last professional knocker-upper turned in his long pole in the 1950s in Manchester.

All in all, perhaps my 7.15am start isn’t so bad after all…

14 comments:

  1. How fascinating! I've often wondered how people managed to wake up without alarm clocks. :)

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    1. Love 'em or hate 'em - it seems alarm clocks are a good thing after all!
      Thanks for visiting, Barbara.

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    2. People in the middle ages would use special candles. The candles would be so long, and you would put nails in at the hour you needed up. When the candle melted, the nails fell on a metal plate, banging loudly.

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    3. That's wonderful information, Panda! Love it, so simple but effective. Thanks for sharing that - mind you it would take more than a nail falling on a metal plate to wake me most mornings.
      G

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  2. Goodness! This was such an interesting post. It's such a gem of an insight into the era. Thanks.

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    1. It's amazing that some knocker-uppers continued into the 20th century, don't you think?
      G x

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  3. I had never given a thought to this before! Wonderful post.

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    1. I love how what was a common sight in the 19th century (if you were awake) is almost forgotten about. How times changes.
      G x

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  4. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  5. I lived in Saltaire from 1935 until 1947 where many of the population worked in the local Salt's Mill. The "Knocker Upper" still came round in our street between 6 and 6-30 tapping on the upstairs windows with a long pole and shouting "Ahr yer aht o'bed". This was followed at 6-40 onwards by the sound of walking feet which got faster as the clock neared five to seven. The work started at 7-00 sharp. Anyone more than 2 minutes late was sent home until after breakfast break which was from 8-30 until 9-00. Happy Days !

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  6. My grandfather was a knocker upper in the late 1800s in the Kings Road, Chelsea. He was called Frederick Littlejohn.

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    1. Wow! Fantastic, I'd love to know about him.

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  7. Truly interesting. Thank you!

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  8. Loved the info thanks for sharing

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