From the album The Best English Singalong Folksongs Volume 1
This is a song that recalls Northern working class social history from the mid-1800s to 1954 at least. Written by Mike Canavan in the late 1960s about the ‘Knocker Uppers’ of Manchester and Salford, this song brings back memories of when I was a kid growing up in a deprived part of Manchester called Ancoats.
Knocker Upper Men were employed by the mill and pit owners to get their workers up at some ungodly hour to go and do their 14 hour of slavery in the mills and pits. They would carry a long pole and they would walk the streets of terraced houses tapping on the upstairs bedroom window of the terraced houses. These houses or “two-up-two-downs” as they were known were often in rows of 50 or more and had a ‘front room’, a living room and a scullery downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. As late as the early 1950s many of them still had gas lighting, no hot water, and an outside toilet at the bottom of the walled yard. The houses were mostly ‘tied’ to the local mills/ pits etc, so for many workers, their boss was also their landlord which inevitably gave rise to much bullying and abuse. In later years the ‘Knocker Uppers’ used to ‘double-job’ by switching off the street gas lamps too, using the same pole but now with a hook attached to the opposite end.
Being still on gas in 1954 meant that Ancoats was one of the last refuges of the ‘Knocker Up’ and ours was a bloke called Percy Small. He carried a pole with a sock on one end and a hook on the other and he had a black and white Jack Russell dog that bit everyone. The hook appeared in later years since this meant he could switch off the street gas lamps too. It fits perfectly into Lancashire English Folk-Heritage. Sadly, Mike died in 2013 - a great loss to English folk-heritage music.
Through cobbled streets so cold and damp
The Knocker-Upper man goes creeping
Tap-tapping at the window pane
To wake the town from sleeping.
He said “Eh thee up and stir thi'self
The factory ooter’s blowin’
So get up from your nice warm bed
To work you must be goin’”
Day in day out the year about
Though snow or rain are fallin
You’d hear his clogs along the street
You’d hear his voice a’callin’
All the early-rising working folk
The Knocker-Upper's call they heeded
But time goes by, old customs die
Now he's no longer needed
Through streets of quiet suburbia
The Knocker-Upper's ghost goes creeping
Now listening to the ringing sound
That wakes the town from sleeping