For those of us who have to set an alarm to get up for work, or whatever else one might need an alarm for, the alarm clock truly is not our friend. Whether you had a good night’s sleep or not, really doesn’t matter either. You also know that if the power goes off, or you just don’t happen to hear that alarm, because you are a heavy sleeper…well, you’re going to be late, and your boss is not going to be happy. That alarm going off is always annoying. Nevertheless, we have somewhere we need to be, so that incessant, obnoxious, blaring alarm is a necessity.
So, what did people do before alarm clocks? They still had to be to work on time, but if they were a person who did not wake up at the crack of dawn, or to the rooster crowing, what then? Now imagine that your only alarm clock is the sun. If your room is dark, you could have a big problem. Well, there was a fix for that. During the early days of the Industrial Revolution and lasting into the beginnings of the 20th Century, as late as the 1920’s, workers had to get to work on time, and there were no alarm clocks. That’s where the “Knocker-Up” or “Knocker-Upper” came in. Don’t laugh, it was a real occupation in England and Ireland in the days before alarm clocks were affordable or reliable. A Knocker-up’s whole job was to go to the homes of the workers, and wake them up by shooting a pebble through a long tube, usually made of bamboo, and hitting the window pane to wake them up. Some used a long stick, and I can see that it might be helpful if the client was a particularly heavy sleeper. A few whacks on the window sill would wake most people up. The knocker-upper was required to stay outside the house and continue this action until the worker came to the window to show that they were up and would not go back to sleep. In return for their services, the knocker-up’s clients paid them a few pence a week. Not a high paying job for sure. The knocker-ups were usually elderly men and women, or sometimes even the police, because it was a way to supplement their income, as they could do it on their morning patrols.
As alarm clocks became readily available, the knocker-ups were no longer needed. Nevertheless, like many other occupations of old, that no longer exist, these have their origins deeply rooted in history when people worked many varying trades and had to improvise to accomplish their tasks. Some of these professions are not what historians or genealogists consider to be mainstream work, but they are a rather interesting thing to look back on. I think it would be odd to have such a strange occupation, but I can see that it was necessary, and it wouldn’t require much time out of your day. Still, one question remains for me. Who was supposed to wake up the knocker-up? They would obviously have to be awake before the others needed to be, and if they were like me, getting me up early is not in anyone’s best interest…just ask my husband, if he should wake me up before the alarm goes off. While this may have been an honorable occupation in those days, I think it would not have been the occupation for me.