Knocker Uppers

Knocker Uppers

Waking up the workers in industrial Britain

Before there were alarm clocks, there were “knockers-up”, who were hired to shoot dried peas from a blow gun at people’s windows in order to wake them up in the morning. Until the 1970s in some areas, many workers were woken by the sound of a tap at their bedroom window. On the street outside, walking to their next customer's house, would be a figure wielding a long stick. The "knocker upper" was a common sight in Britain, particularly in the northern mill towns, where people worked shifts, or in London where dockers kept unusual hours, ruled as they were by the inconstant tides. While the standard implement was a long fishing rod-like stick, other methods were employed, such as soft hammers, rattles and even pea shooters. During the Industrial Age, people toiled at unusual hours in mines or factories. They could have used alarm clocks—adjustable versions had been invented by the mid-19th century. But they were still relatively expensive items, and unreliable ones, at that. While the practice continued in some parts of the United Kingdom until the 1970s, it waned as alarm clocks and electricity became more widespread and affordable. Sure, beeping alarm clocks and smartphones that play morning music are simpler and more convenient.

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