Pea Shooter to Awaken Workers: true history

Waking up shift workers in industrial England became a profession, a way to earn money. Using a variety of methods, they woke up people who had contracted with the “wakers”. Early attempts at waking people up meant knocking on room doors, but neighbors complained about the noise in the hallway. The solution was to rap or tap windows of the customers. My first inkling that this was really a thing was that old photo of the lady with the peashooter.

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.
“They used to come down the street with their big, long poles,” remembers Paul Stafford, a 59-year-old artist who was raised above a shop in Oldham.


“I would sleep with my brother in the back room upstairs and my parents slept in the front.
“[The knocker upper] wouldn’t hang around either, just three or four taps and then he’d be off. We never heard it in the back, though it used to wake my father in the front.”
While the standard implement was a long fishing rod-like stick, other methods were employed, such as soft hammers, rattles and even pea shooters. The next question was, who woke up the “wakers” so they’d get out and do their jobs on time? The invention of the alarm clock put an end to this practice.

A Word from Loren

Sometimes I kid and sometimes I stretch the truth to make a fun story, but this history is true. In fact, look this up using any of the key terms above.

And just keep this in mind: I will never say I’m telling the truth when I’m not telling it. If I say it’s true, it is to the best of my knowledge. Usually if it’s something I’ve made up, I often write: This just might be a story  (and in that case it is). Hoping that’s clear, dear reader.

2 Replies to “Pea Shooter to Awaken Workers: true history”

  1. This is interesting, especially the pea shooter to wake people. The only image I have with pea shooting is when my brothers and I would have dinner when we were growing up. Let me back up a little, when I was growing up we had 4 dogs that were usually blocked off in the kitchen area with a gate since it had lanoleum flooring where as the rest of the house had hard wood floors. You can probably figure out why we did this. We lived in a suburban area and not on a farm so we didnt have any shelter outside for the dogs to stay. My mom was an avid animal lover and we continuously had several strays that she would take in and give a home. Anyhow, back to my pea shooter story, my mom would make us dinner. When it was time to eat both my parents would eat in the living room watching tv while my two younger brothers and I were told to eat at the kitchen table. My younger brother was bored and came up with an idea which he thought would be funny so he started shooting peas with his tongue at the kitchen cabinet to see if he could hit it. He was not crazy about peas but was told he needed to eat them. When the pea would hit the ground the dogs would fight over it. My parents would yell “stop playing around and eat”…well, with that we would giggle and each take our turns trying to hit the cabinet. Let me end by saying… we knew how to make dinner entertaining and to how “eat” all of our vegetables.

    1. Loren Elkin says: Reply

      What a great family story, you recall it in such detail. Only had a sister so things were simpler in my family. But I do remember going to the Amery Ben Franklin variety store and getting a long straw/shooter for a nickel and a small bag of peas. Did not know at the time they were soybeans. Anyway, those peas could go a long way with the right thrust. Sounds above like your dogs enjoyed your game.

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