'Lady of the Lamp' Mary was the 'Alexa' alarm in Kells and Connor

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

THE pictures opposite show just how far we’ve come in just 80 years.

Nowadays even the most hard to wake sleepers have bleepers, bells and even the dulcet tones of Alexa at their bedside to ensure they get up for work in time.

But in times gone by, it wasn’t just a case of a verbal shot across the bows from the boss if you turned up late for work - back in the so-called ‘good old days’ it could mean the loss of a day’s pay or maybe even your job.

And back in the hungry 30s when every day was a grind to put the most basic grub on the table and keep a roof over your head, it was women like the lady opposite who you relied on to get you to your work on time.

Our pictures show one of the last of the ‘knocker-uppers’ who rose well before the crack of dawn every day in life to go round the doors to give people their morning alarm call.

Known as ‘The Lady With The Map’, Mary Millar plied her trade in Kells and Connor.

A knocker-up was a job in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution, when alarm clocks were neither cheap nor reliable.

Most had given up the role by the begnning of the 1920s but Mary was still performing her morning task up until the outbreak of World War 2.

The knocker-up used a baton 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 they were sure that the client had been awoken.

A knocker upper would also use a 'snuffer outer' as a tool to rouse the sleeping. This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.

There were large numbers of people carrying out the job, especially in larger industrial towns.

Generally the job was done by elderly men and women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.

The pictures, re-discovered by a Guardian reporter on a research task at the Local Studies Department of Ballymena Library appeared in the Belfast Newsletter in January of 1939.

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