Human Alarm Clocks Of The Industrial Revolution

Dave Killion — December 2, 2012

Wakey – wakey!

This is an image of Mary Smith, taken in 1931, carrying out her job as a Knocker – up. From Wikipedia –

“A Knocker-up (sometimes known as a knocker-upper) was a profession  in England and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution and at least as late as the 1920s, before alarm clocks were affordable or reliable. A knocker-up’s job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.

The knocker-up used a truncheon or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick,often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. At least one of them used a pea-shooter. In return, the knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week. The knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until sure that the client had been awoken.

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

For this work, Ms. Smith purportedly earned about sixpence a week. For this, she was required to wake as early as 3 A.M. each day, and to carry out her duties in all weathers. I doubt sixpence was much money. It was, however, reward for the type of honest work that could be carried out by dependable (albeit otherwise unskilled) persons, thereby sparing them the indignity of receiving welfare. Sadly, in today’s environment of minimum wages and state-supplied welfare, people like Ms. Smith are denied the chance to make a positive contribution to society, and are instead relegated to being supplicants. This is not the sort of development I would call ‘progress’.

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