Old English Occupation: Knocker-Up Keeping Employees Working

Although this article I have re-blogged here talks about knocker-uppers lasting until the 1920s, they actually continued, as Pete Johnson comments below, into the 1950s, possibly beyond.

Originally posted on Genealogy Research Network

Many old and honorable occupations that no longer exist have their origins deeply rooted in history when people worked many varying trades.  Some of these professions are not what historians or genealogists might consider to be mainstream work, but over the years these various lines of work have provided great stories that can be passed down to future generations.

One of these jobs was that of the knocker-up also sometimes referred to as a knocker-upper.  This profession was prevalent in both England and Ireland having started during the early days of the Industrial Revolution and lasted into the beginnings of the 20th Century as late as the 1920s.  Before alarm clocks were both affordable, and reliable, it was the job…

via Old English Occupation: Knocker-Up Keeping Employees Working | Genealogy Research Network.

5 thoughts on “Old English Occupation: Knocker-Up Keeping Employees Working

  1. Oh this one took me back Sarah. As a small child, i can actually recall seeing the last of these men ‘knocking up’ around the streets of south London. People still had to get up very early, to work in factories, or on the docks. I never knew much about them or knew any of them personally, and they soon disappeared, once wind-up (very loud ticking) alarm clocks replaced them. I always wondered who paid them, but was too young to discuss this aspect at the time. Not the sort of conversation that children had in my youth.
    I have a better memory of men lighting gas lamps as street-lights. This was dying out too, as they were fast becoming electrified at the time. The lamps were not as high up as they are now and had little doors in them, which would be swung open, to expose the gas mantle for lighting. They gave a strange yellow glow, not much use really, especially in fog! Halcyon days…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have just been reading a lot more about this on the Internet. It says that the custom of employing ‘knocker-ups’ only lasted until the 1920’s, which surprised me, as I can remember it in the early 1950’s. Further reading shows that this was often a task carried out by men snuffing out the street-lamps at first light, using the same pole device for both jobs. I believe that this is what I remember, with the lamp-snuffers still waking up certain people who didn’t have alarm clocks. I also read that gas lamps were only left in a few parts of London at the time, but some still exist, in Lincolns Inn. And most of Berlin is still lit by gas.
      (Either that, or it was all a strange dream! But I don’t think so…)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh, WP’s doing its sillies again as I see my answer to your first comment is below your second comment! You weren’t dreaming! You reminded me that I’d already seen on other sites that they continued into the 1950s and had meant to add a proviso at the beginning, which I’ve now done.


    • I’m just that little bit too young to remember knocker-uppers but the term was used freely at home instead of ‘clock’. Strong memories for me were the French onion-sellers on their bicycles and the Watney’s siren early in the morning for the brewery workers. That used to annoy me because it was always an hour or half-an-hour before I needed to get up for school but once awake, I couldn’t go back to sleep!

      Liked by 1 person

      • There was a French onion seller who used to come to our street too, his bike laden with strings of large onions. Trouble was, my Nan had a grocery shop, so we never bought any off him! While I am at it, there was a milkman with a horse and cart, a coalman with a horse and cart, and a lady who lived up the street who used to ‘lay out’ anyone who died.
        I have given it a lot of thought, and I am definitely not dreaming!
        Best wishes Sarah. Pete.

        Liked by 2 people

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