How did people wake up on time, before the alarm clock?

| David Lewis | History

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The industrial revolution – as its name suggests – revolutionized humanity’s way of life in many ways. One particular aspect was that workers had to come to work exactly(!) on time. Unfortunately, back then, reliable alarm clocks were too expensive and way out of the ordinary men’s financial reach. 

Every problem is an opportunity in disguise and this one was no different. Soon enough it gave birth to a new profession – the knocker-up (or knocker-upper).

The knocker-up’s job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time. They would usually use a short stick to knock on customers’ doors or a long bamboo stick to tap on the windows of the upper floors. Other practiced methods include the use of soft hammers or throwing small objects such as stones and peas at the customer’s window.

Mind you, the knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until they were sure that the client had been awoken and in return, they would be paid a few pence a week.

This human alarm-clock profession was practiced mainly in Britain and Ireland and – get this – survived in England till the 20th century early 70’s…. that’s not so long ago.

A Knocker-up wakes up with a hammer

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And for all knocker-up enthusiast, here are some more facts:

Most knocker-uppers were elderly men and women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.

A brief description of the profession at hand can be found in Charles Dickens’s great book “High hopes” (1861). 

It’s a short tongue twister poem about customers who do not wake up because of their a failed knocker upper:

“We had a knocker-up and our knocker-up did not knock our knocker up /So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up / ‘Cos he’s not up”.

And for all knocker-up enthusiast, here are some more facts:

Most knocker-uppers were elderly men and women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.

A brief description of the profession at hand can be found in Charles Dickens’s great book “High hopes” (1861). 

It’s a short tongue twister poem about customers who do not wake up because of their a failed knocker upper:

“We had a knocker-up and our knocker-up did not knock our knocker up /So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up / ‘Cos he’s not up”.