From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A knocker-up in Leeuwarden, 1947

A knocker-up or knocker-upper was a member of a profession[1] in the Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, and some other countries that started during, and lasted well into, the Industrial Revolution, when alarm clocks were neither cheap nor reliable. A knocker-up's job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.[2][3] By the 1940s and 1950s, this profession had more or less entirely died out, although it still continued in some pockets of industrial England until the early 1970s.[4]

The knocker-up used a baton or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients' doors or a long and light stick,[5] often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. One famous photograph shot in 1931 by John Topham shows a knocker-up in East London using a pea-shooter.[6] In return for the task, the knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week. Some knocker-ups would not leave a client's window until they were sure that the client had been awakened, while others simply tapped several times and then moved on.[7]

A knocker-up would also use a 'snuffer outer' as a tool to rouse the sleeping.[citation needed] This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.

There were large numbers of people carrying out the job, especially in larger industrial towns such as Manchester. Generally the job was done by elderly men and pregnant women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.[8]

Molly Moore (daughter of Mary Smith, also a knocker-up and the protagonist of a children's picture book by Andrea U'Ren called Mary Smith)[9] claims to have been the last knocker-up to have been employed as such. Both Smith and Moore used a long rubber tube to shoot dried peas at their clients' windows.

In Ferryhill, County Durham, miners' houses had slate boards set into their outside walls onto which the miners would write their shift details in chalk so that the colliery-employed knocker-up could wake them at the correct time. These boards were known as "knocky-up boards" or "wake-up slates".[10]

In media[edit]

Charles Dickens's Great Expectations includes a brief description of a knocker-up.[4] Hindle Wakes, a play written by Stanley Houghton and then a movie (of the same title) directed by Maurice Elvey, similarly involves one.

The profession of a knocker-up is documented and explained in the episode "The Industrial Revolution" of the television series The Worst Jobs in History.

A knocker-up appears at the very beginning of the musical The Wind Road Boys by Paul Flynn. He walks along a group of children who are all holding slates with a number chalked upon them. The number on the slates denotes at what hour the householder wished to be woken in the morning and he calls and raps on the windows with his stick accordingly.

In Walter Greenwood's novel "Love on the Dole" a knocker upper is featured. He wakes the Hardcastle family and their neighbours up by tapping on their upper windows with a long pole that has wires hanging from the end.


  1. ^ Leigh, Egderton; Roger Wilbraham (1877). A glossary of words used in the dialect of Cheshire. Hamiluton, Adams, and Co. p. 117. (One of the curious ways of earning a livelihood in the manufacturing towns)
  2. ^ Macauley, James (1857). The Leisure Hour Vol VI. London. p. 312.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Hylton, Stuart (1998). From Rationing to Rock: The 1950s Revisited. Stroud: Sutton. p. 29. ISBN 0750917334. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b Peek, Sitala (27 March 2016). "Knocker uppers: Waking up the workers in industrial Britain". BBC News. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  5. ^ Taylor, Simon (1993). A land of dreams: a study of Jewish and Caribbean migrant communities in England. Routledge. p. 59. (The knocker-up man and his long pole...)
  6. ^ "Knocker-up Armed with a Pea Shooter". Eastern Daily Press. 5 August 2009. Archived from the original on 18 January 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  7. ^ "Knocker uppers: Waking up the workers in industrial Britain". BBC News. 27 March 2016. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  8. ^ Taylor, David (1997). The new police in nineteenth-century England: crime, conflict, and control. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7190-4729-9. (An entrepreneurial bobby could earn a shilling or two by acting as a knocker-up)
  9. ^ Uren, Andrea (13 August 2003). Mary Smith. Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 978-0374348427.
  10. ^ "'Knocky-up boards' saved from ex-miners' homes". BBC News. 15 September 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.

External links[edit]