Wednesday 3 November 2010

Before the Alarm Clock

Ever wondered how your ancestors woke up for work? Here's the great James Greenwood conducting an interviewed in the early 1880s:

    "At other times he's a 'knocker-up.' But he don't do much in that line, and he can't expect to, for that's a precious pertickler line; and unless a man may be depended upon it plays old gooseberry, don't you see ?"
     I did not see, and begged my talkative old friend to explain.
     "Look here, then," said he, "are you ever out early - very early, I mean - in the morning, and chance to go through streets where working men live? Very well, you are; and didn't you ever notice chalked on the pavement, or on the door or wall of the houses all manner of figures, '½ past 3, '¼ to 4,' '5 o'clock,' and such like? There you are, then. That's what you may call the key to the knocking-up business. There are many men, factory hands and those who ply at market, who have no reglar time for getting up. They don't know themselves what time it will be needful till they get home the night before. Well, they depend on the knocker-up to have 'em out at the time. He makes an engagement to do it, don't you see, for sixpence or ninepence a week, and of course he has to be on his beat very early, as he don't know what time the first one wants to be roused. It will be three o'clock, maybe, and then he must be out by two so as to have time to run through all his streets, and make sure; or he'll take a turn overnight, last thing, and before he turns in his-self. It's a ticklish job, I've heard him say, with some of the heavy sleepers. They take such a lot of hammering to wake 'em that the neighbours don't like it; and he's been pelted from windows and had water chucked down on him, and all manner of things. Then the police are awfully hard on knockers-up. It's a job they've got a fancy for, and can do it easy in general, being on duty there; but there's no knowing when they may have a station-house job on, and they can't be in two places at the same time, and that's why the people would rather have a private knocker-up if they can get one."
     "Does it pay?"
     "Well, it's according to the number," I should say. "About nine shillings a week the man I'm speaking of makes while he's at it. But then, don't you see, it's in all weathers, and it means a good many miles if the streets are far apart and the times are warious."

1 comment:

  1. I can see that it is indeed a pertickler line. I wonder how the knocker-up knows the time: does he have a watch or go by church clocks?

    I fascinating glimpse of a job that was far more complicated than I had realized.