Orsam Books

The Knock Up

During the early hours of 31 August 1888, at about 3:45am, P.C. Jonas Mizen of the Metropolitan Police 'H' Division was engaged in the task of 'knocking up' -otherwise known as 'calling up' - a resident of Baker's Row who needed to rise early for work, when he was informed by two local carmen that a woman was lying on the ground in nearby Bucks Row. This woman turned out to be Mary Ann Nichols who had been brutally murdered by an unknown assailant later named Jack the Ripper. Today it is not very well known that police constables within the Metropolitan Police District took time on their beats to wake up members of the public during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The purpose of this article is to examine the available evidence about police involvement in knocking up, especially looking at whether officers were duty bound to engage in this activity and whether they were allowed to accept payment for doing so.


From the early days of the Metropolitan Police it was a clearly laid down rule that its constables were not allowed to accept money from members of the public (at least not without permission from a very senior officer). According to Charles Tempest Hall and J. Hall Richardson, in 'Police!' (1889), the original Metropolitan Police Regulations stated that a constable:

'shall not, upon any occasion, or under any pretence whatsoever, take money from any person without the express permission of the commissioners.'

Similarly, but more sternly, police instructions for constables from 1841 stated: 

'...upon no pretence shall he receive a gratuity from any person, for anything relative to his Duty; this will always be visited with immediate dismissal.' (HO 45/103).

At the same time, a new profession of a knocker-up was emerging in northern towns.  A Mrs Walters of Yorkshire claimed to have been one of the first professional knockers-up in the country, having started her career in about 1836 (Leeds Times, 17 November 1877).  Police officers in the north also appear to have been knocking up residents but, in Manchester, in 1844, this practice was firmly stopped.  The Watch Committee of the Manchester Borough Police Force resolved on 25 April 1844:

'That this Committee having found that inconvenience has arisen to the working of the Force from the Constables' neglecting their duties for the purpose of calling up inhabitants – and it appears that there are numbers of private individuals also employed in all the districts of the Borough in calling up parties independent of the Police, notice be given that after the 1st day of May next the Police will be prohibited calling up any inhabitant.

That the Chief Constable be directed to give the necessary instruction to the Police, and also to prepare a printed notice to be forthwith distributed amongst all the parties who now avail themselves of the services of the police in being called up.'

In the event, the Manchester Courier of 4 May 1844 reported that the regulation was to be enforced from 11th May (rather than 1st May) and that, after this time, 'the police would be prevented...from calling up any of the inhabitants, as it was found to interfere with their regular duties.'

Although common in Manchester, it took a while for news of the existence of professional knockers-up to permeate down to the south of England. According to Punch magazine from July 1850:

'We are told by our agreeable friend "Household Words" that a new kind of business exists at Manchester called "knocking up".  This consists in "knocking up" factory people in the morning in order that they may be in time for work. One woman earns as much as four-and-twenty shillings a-week by "knocking up" persons – which, since a lady is concerned, is much better than knocking them down'. 

In Manchester, as we have seen, it did not make sense for police officers to engage in knocking up because of the availability of so many professional knockers-up who could cater for demand but such men and women were rather more scarce in the capital and, perhaps for this reason, the practice of knocking up by constables of the Metropolitan Police Force was allowed to be performed. Indeed, some constables in London might have been adding to their salaries by knocking up in the morning while they patrolled their beats - but payment was not only made in cash.

At Wandsworth police court on 2 February 1852, the magistrate, Mr Beadon, on hearing the evidence against William Parr, charged with an assault on several constables of the 'V' division, said that 'it was quite clear the constables were in the habit of calling up the landlord of the Duchess of York every morning, and he supposed they received a couple of pots of beer for their trouble.' (Evening Standard, 3 February 1852). Evidence from the constables involved made clear that they did indeed receive beer in return for calling up the landlady of that public house.  

A little over one year later, Richard Mayne, the chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, issued the following Police Order on 9 February 1853 under the heading of 'Call Money' (underlining added):

'Considerable inconvenience has long been found to arise from the practice of the Constables receiving money from Inhabitants on their Beats for calling them up in the morning, it leads to neglect by the Constables of those Inhabitants who don't pay, and causes complaints by Constables who are on Beats where money is not given, and has on several occasions produced ill feeling between Constables in the apportioning of money given.

The superintendents will henceforth take care that no money is received by a Constable and any Constable who receives any for such a service is to be reported to the Commissioners.  The Constables are bound to render this as other service in their power to an Inhabitant, and any neglect is to be reported and will be furnished.

Should a special occasion arise for which an Inhabitant sends money to the Station House for the Constable who has called him up, the money may be retained at the Station and the facts reported to the Commissioners for their decision.


Beneath this was a memo with instructions for Superintendents at the next briefing of their men, the first of which was:

'Constables not to receive money for calling up Inhabitants in the morning.'

This Police Order reveals a number of clear facts:

1. It was a duty of police constables to call up inhabitants in the morning when such a service was requested by those inhabitants. 

2. Some constables called up inhabitants in the morning without receiving any payment.

3. Some police constables had been receiving a payment for calling up but it seems that there was some kind of agreement to split the money between a group of constables, presumably because more than one constable was assigned to the same beat at different times.

4. On some 'special' occasions, inhabitants had been sending money to the police station. 

5. From the date of the police order it was prohibited for constables to receive any form of payment for calling up but if such money was sent to the police station this would be reported to the Commissioner. What happened then is not stated but perhaps the Commissioner would allow it to be retained by the constable or constables for whom it was intended. 

An important point to note about the Police Order of 9 February 1853 is that, like all Police Orders at this time, it existed only in manuscript form.  Police Orders were not yet being printed and the superintendents were required to read them out to their men without any written copies being available.  It is possible, therefore, that, having been read out, the order was quickly forgotten and not enforced, at least in some divisions.  

In this respect we may note that when regulations about accepting money for payments for notifying the Fire Brigade about fires (confusingly also known as 'call money') were published in Police Orders on 5 August 1868, it was stated: 

'This Order is to be frequently read to the men, especially those who have recently joined, in addition to the usual monthly reading of the Orders.'  

This suggests that those Police Orders not read as frequently were not observed as diligently as they might have been. (For more about 'call money' for fires see the article here)

Timothy Cavanagh joined the Metropolitan Police on 11 June 1855 and spent about a year on the beat in 'M' Division as a constable.  In his memoirs, published in 1893, he wrote of his time on the beat in Union Street:

'There was a good deal of money to be made on this ground - as many as forty calls belonging to the happy possessor of the beat. A "call" meant that a man (and here they mostly belonged to the Borough Market) wanted calling at four or five, or even earlier, in the morning, for which service he paid on Saturday night with great regularity the sum of sixpence.  Should he, however, fail to pay up, matters were soon put right by failing to call him on Monday morning, when, in consequence of losing half a day's work, he was certain to be in the way with the stipulated "tanner" the next night. In this way a good sum was added to the regular pay and placed a man in a fairly good position'.

In view of the clearly worded Police Order issued by the Chief Commissioner only two years earlier this is a quite remarkable admission. If Cavanagh was taking money directly from the residents of Union Street without reporting it, this would have amounted to nothing less than a serious breach of the regulations.  

Cavanagh moved to the Correspondence Office at Great Scotland Yard in 1856, being promoted to sergeant in January 1857, and was promoted to inspector only four years later rising to the rank of Chief Inspector in the licensing branch at Scotland Yard in December 1860.  He resigned from the force due to poor health in October 1869.  It's possible that due to his clerical duties he was never aware that taking money for calling up was prohibited.

It doesn't seem like he was the only one breaking the regulations. An American publication, 'Continental Monthly', in July 1862, carried an article entitled 'London Fogs and London Poor' in which their American journalist spoke to a police constable in Central London.  The journalist wrote of his conversation with the constable: 

'He asked me several questions about New York, complained that it was impossible for a man to live decently in England, and remarked that 'if it weren't for the knocking-up money a policeman in London couldn’t do it nohow."  I inquired what he meant by 'knocking-up money' and was informed that it was the custom in London, and in all the large towns, for labouring men, who had to rise to their work at an early hour, to pay a small weekly sum to the policeman in whose 'beat' they resided, for knocking loudly at the door in the morning to awaken them.  It is usual for policemen to add several shillings to their weekly wages by this practice, and it is so far recognized by the regulations of the force, that men who have slightly misconducted themselves are punished by being removed from a 'beat' where there is a great deal of 'knocking up' to be performed, and transferred to a more respectable quarter of the town, where the inhabitants are not compelled to rise until they choose.'  

The irony of this is that 1862 was the year in which General Regulations, Instructions and Orders for the government and guidance of the Metropolitan Police Force was printed.  This publication was stated to be 'Instructions for the different ranks of the Metropolitan Police Force' and under the heading of 'Gratuities', It contained the following regulation:

'No money is to be received by a Serjeant or Constable for calling up persons in the morning.  The Police are bound to render this or any other Service in their power to the inhabitants.

 If an inhabitant sends money to the Police Station, for a Serjeant or Constable, who has called him up, the money is to be retained at the Station, and a Report made to the Commissioner for his directions.'

This was obviously based on the PO of 9 February 1853. Also included under the same heading is the following:

'No gratuity is to be received by any of the Police, without the express permission of the Commissioner.

The Commissioner will allow gratuities to be received on all proper occasions, upon the circumstances being reported to him.

A gratuity offered at the time by a person to whom services are rendered upon any sudden emergency may be taken, subject to the decision of the Commissioner as to its being retained or returned to the person who gave it: in such a case the name and address of the person giving the gratuity is to be procured, and the sum given handed over as soon as possible to the Superintendent of the Division, by whom a Report of the circumstances is to be laid before the Commissioner, for his decision.'

This publication can be found online in Google books here

It is possible that from 1862 onwards, the regulation about payment for calling up being prohibited was more strictly enforced due to its appearance in printed form.  A year before Cavanagh's resignation, the following appeared in Police Orders of 24 November 1868:

RESIGNATION COMPULSORY - P.  P.C. 49 Burgess, complained of by a man for receiving a half-sovereign in mistake for a sixpence, for calling him up in the morning, and not reporting the same; pay to 23rd. 

The punctuation in this sentence makes it hard to be sure if P.C. Burgess was forced to resign because he had not reported that he had received a half sovereign in mistake for a sixpence or because he had not reported that he had received call money at all but one assumes it must have been the latter.  If so, it is evidence of the Police Order of 9 February 1853 being enforced.

One would have thought that the best way of ensuring that constables did not take money in payment for calling up would have been to publicize that it was prohibited and that the service would be performed by the police for free, with any constable demanding money for the service to be reported by members of the public. This does not seem to have happened but we do find it reported in a newspaper in 1870 that the police were not allowed to accept money for this service.  An article containing various criticisms of the Metropolitan Police in the London Daily News of 3 June 1870 stated (underlining added):

'Attention to "call money" appeared to receive more favourable consideration, and sixpences per week for rousing sleepy shopkeepers were matters not to be lightly estimated, even though it is written in the rules, we believe, that no fees are to be received from the citizen who requires to be roused. Besides that class of the police which closes its eyes to things that are going on, there must be another section incapable of seeing anything, and which is hoodwinked by the shallowest devices.'

This is rare confirmation in the press that constables were not allowed to accept money for calling up.

An Instruction Book for the use of Candidates and Constables of the Metropolitan Police Force dated 1871 made no mention of call money but a revised (and more detailed) version with the same title dated 1873 included the following under the heading 'CALL MONEY':

'1. No money or other gift is to be received by the Police for calling persons up in the morning.

2. The Police are bound to render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants, and any neglect is to be reported, and will be punished.

3. If an inhabitant sends money to the Police Station, for a Sergeant or Constable who has called him up, the money is to be retained at the Station, and a report made to the Commissioner for his directions.


 We can see here that the word 'gift' has been added as something that an officer cannot receive for calling up, in addition to money.

Under 'Gratuities' one then finds the following:

1. No Gratuity is to be received by any of the Police without the express permission of the Commissioner.

2. The Commissioner will allow gratuities to be received on all proper occasions upon the circumstances being reported to him.

3. A gratuity offered at the time by a person to whom special services are rendered upon any sudden emergency may be taken, subject to the decision of the Commissioner as to its being retained or returned to the person giving it; in such a case the name and address of the person giving the gratuity to be procured, and the sum received handed over as soon as possible to the Superintendent of the Division.

4. A report of the circumstances will be laid by the Superintendent before the Commissioner for his decision.

5. The Superintendents, before they submit to the Commissioner their recommendations that gratuities should be allowed, are to make such inquiry as to satisfy themselves that no solicitations, direct or indirect, have been made to the persons by whom the gratuities are given, and if there is reason to suppose that solicitation has been made, or that there are any other circumstances which make it improper for the gratuities to be received, all the particulars are to be reported to the Commissioner.

6. Applications for authority to receive gratuities are to be made on the proper printed Form and sent to Commissioner's Office for approval every Saturday. When approved, a notice will appear in Police Orders, and the form of application will be returned to the Divisions for the amounts to be paid, and the signatures of the recipients affixed. The completed form will then be sent back to Commissioner's Office on the following Saturday.

7. After the distribution of an amount is approved by Commissioner no alteration is to be made in the amounts handed to each individual without the express sanction of Commissioner.

8. The Superintendents, in submitting the Weekly Reports of Gratuities given to the Police for Commissioner's approval, are to state the total amount in each case, and whether the money was given for services rendered when in the execution of their ordinary duty; or whether the duty was performed in their own time, or when on leave.

9. When rewards or gratuities are granted to the Police by the Boards of Customs or Inland Revenue, communication is made by the proposer officer of the department to the Commissioner, stating the sums to be paid by the Police concerned.

10. If the awards are approved by the Commissioner, a printed memorandum is sent to the Superintendent, who is to direct the Police to attend at the proper office to receive the amounts.

11. When the money has been received application is to be made on the Gratuity Form for the final approval of the Commissioner.

12. No application is to be made for any reward arising out of convictions under the Revenue Laws, unless the approval of the Commissioner is previously obtained.

13. Gifts of meats, spirits, etc. to the Constables of a Division who dine together annually after Christmas are, like any gift or gratuity, not to be accepted, unless reported in the usual way to the Superintendent, and sanctioned by the Commissioner.

14. When the Constables are allowed to dine together on such occasions the Superintendents are to make arrangements that the duty is not neglected, and that no excess is committed.

15. When any sum is left with a subpoena for Police to attend at any Court the amount is to be reported in the same manner as any other gratuity.

16. Gratuities are not permitted to be received by Police for restoring dogs, taking stray cattle etc. to Greenyards; discovering or assisting at fires; for calling up persons in the morning; or for giving evidence in any case of dust improperly removed without authority of Contractor.

In the same year, a printed copy of General Orders and Regulations contained the following under 'CALL MONEY':

1. No money or other gift is to be received by the Police for calling persons up in the morning.

2. The Police are bound to render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants, and any neglect is to be reported, and will be punished.

3. If an inhabitant sends money to the Police Station for a Sergeant or Constable who has called him up, the money is to be retained at the Station, and a report made to the Commissioner for his directions.

A cross-reference was made at this point to PO. 9.2.53. However, it will be noted that the wording here, as in the identically worded 1873 Instruction Book, is not quite identical to the PO of 9 February 1853. In addition to the insertion of the words 'or other gift', the regulation (at point 3) does not refer to payment being made at a police station as 'a special occasion', as had appeared in the 1853 order, so someone in the hierarchy of the Metropolitan Police had given the matter some thought and modified it slightly, perhaps because it was not now uncommon for money to be handed in at the police station.  There is also a note for the reader in the 1873 Regulations to see the section on Gratuities which is the same wording as in the 1873 Instruction Book.

Nevertheless, despite the repetition of the regulations on call money, which one might have thought would have led to more rigid obedience of the rules, we know of at least two officers collecting call money from local residents on their beat during 1877, one of whom was reduced from 2nd to 3rd class constable, the other of whom was dismissed (albeit for another reason).

Police Orders of 5 March 1877 stated:

'CLASS REMOVAL - G. P.C. Barlow, from 2nd to 3rd class; disobedience of Commissioner's orders in receiving call money, and accused of receiving a half-sovereign in mistake for sixpence; pay as 2nd Class to 4th.' 

The circumstances here seem to be similar to the dismissal of P.C. Burgess where an officer was handed more than sixpence by mistake but refused to refund it, causing the resident to report the matter; only in this case the punishment was less severe, perhaps because there was a new Police Commissioner, Edmund Henderson, who was more tolerant, Richard Mayne having died in December 1868.  While it is not entirely clear if this was a reference to call money for waking a resident up in the morning, as opposed to call money for discovering a fire, if we assume that the sum of sixpence was related to the call money it is almost certainly money for calling up in the morning because that was the normal weekly sum for such a service, on the basis of a penny a day for six days.

A few months later, The Times of 24 October 1877 reported as follows:

'AT WANDSWORTH, JAMES BOYDE, police constable 38V, surrendered to his bail to further answer a charge of neglect and violation of duty. Caroline Harrington of Chatham Road, Wandsworth-common, said that on Saturday week the prisoner came to her house for the call money, the police being in the habit of calling up her husband.  She gave him 6d. He was very tipsy and annoying. He went away, but returned and abused her. John Preece said he was returning home with his wife, when he met the prisoner, who was drunk.  The prisoner struck him in the mouth, and then asked him to beg his pardon.  The prisoner said he was very sorry. He was led away by drink, which was given to him. Mr Paget committed him to prison for one month, with hard labour.'   

Police Orders of 24 October 1877 reported Boyde's dismissal from the force:

'DISMISSAL - V. P.C. Boyde; charged before a Magistrate by order of Commissioner, and sentenced to one month's imprisonment with hard labour for drunkeness, neglect of duty, and assault; no pay.' 

So no mention was made there of taking call money but as he was being dismissed in any event it is not terribly surprising. 

Accepting call money by some officers seems to have continued. An article in the Daily Telegraph of 27 January 1880 by the journalist James Greenwood quoted an umbrella mender in Clapham Common as having told him: 

'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.' 

The suggestion here, of course, is that the police in London harassed knockers-up because they were taking their precious business.  This should not have been the case if the rules were being properly enforced.

A few months later, however, on 25 May 1880, the following appeared in Police Orders:

DISMISSAL - Y.  P.C. 463 Edwards; improperly entering a house by the window and behaving indecently to a female; also receiving call-money without permission while on duty; no pay.

This is confirmation that 'receiving call-money without permission' was not allowed by the police authorities.

The Dicken's Dictionary of London for 1888, published in late 1887, summarised the rules about calling-up as follows:

'The police are not only allowed, but are taught to render this service (on ordinary night duty to be made available for calling private individuals in time for early trains etc.) or any other service in their power to the inhabitants.' 

That is all the information about police calling up that we have prior to 1888 but there is another interesting recollection by a former police constable from the 1890s which is rather more pertinent than Timothy Cavanagh's memories from thirty-five years earlier.  This is found in former Chief Inspector James Berrett's book, 'When I Was At Scotland Yard', published in 1932.   Berrett joined the force on 27 February 1893 and was posted to 'H' Division. Referring to a group of seven constables known as 'the secret seven' within that division, Berrett says:

'Another little job we “Secret Seven” took on, which earned us small perquisites, was that of “knocker up.”  I believe that in past days this was a recognised calling in Lancashire among the mill-workers, but in London those who wanted to be wakened at an early hour would visit the Station, and their names and addresses would be written down on a slate.  Their tips came in very handy, but in due course some enterprising gentleman heard of our activities and took the job away from us. He became a professional and our tips ended, much, I believe, to the secret delight of our Superintendent, who hated the idea of the police accepting tips or being asked to perform what he considered to be menial tasks.'

What is interesting here is that Berrett suggests that his Superintendent was aware that he was taking money for knocking up but 'hated' him doing so.  This is odd because, as such a thing was prohibited, the Superintendent could have stopped the practice and had Barrett punished.  Either the Superintendent was turning a blind eye or the tips were being declared properly according to the regulations and permission was being granted by the Chief Constable (see below) for Berrett to keep the money.  Certainly we learn from Berrett that the Superintendent would have been aware of the identity of the residents being called up due to their names being recorded at the station.  It wasn't an unofficial arrangement between the constable and the residents.

By this time there had been a minor tweak to the regulations. The 1893 General Orders and Regulations stated (under the heading of 'BEATS')

'No money or other gift is to be received by the Police for calling persons up in the morning.  The Police are bound to render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants, and any neglect is to be reported and will be punished.

If an inhabitant sends money to the Police Station for a Sergeant or Constable who has called him up, the money is to be retained and a report made to the Chief Constable for his directions.'

The change here is that the Superintendent was now to report the receipt of money to the Chief Constable rather than the Commissioner. 

In February 1893, when Berrett joined the force, we may note that the Superintendent of 'H' Division was Superintendent Charles Dodd; Superintendent Thomas Arnold (the Superintendent in 1888) having retired a few weeks earlier and Dodd was replaced in November 1895 by Superintendent John Mulvany.

Berrett transferred to the 'A' Division at some point prior to 1899.  

In 1897, Charles Duckworth, one of Charles Booth's researchers for his inquiry into the life of London's labouring poor, spoke to Mr Cox, the manager of The Pembury Tavern public house in Hackney and of four other London public houses (one in Shoreditch, one in Tottenham, one in Homerton and one in Denmark Hill), who told him, as recorded in his notebook (Booth/B/348, p.183):

'Every week he pays 1/- per week to the police as "call money".  Nominally it is for calling the servant just before 1 o'clock. This house opens at 7.  His house in Shoreditch at 5.30. ' 

In the following year, Duckworth spoke to Police Constables Richard Machell and William Ryeland of the 'G' Division. In his notebook (Booth/B/353, p.77) Duckworth records the following in arising from his conversation with P.C. Machell:

'Very little call money is now paid. The riots of 1887 gave it a death blow.  The publican as far as he knows pays nothing. They are too poor about here to be able to give away their money.'

From his conversation with Ryeland  (Booth/B/352, p.151), Duckworth records:  

'Call money is a thing really of the past. He thinks the cheapening of alarm clocks has had more to do with it than anything else. Some are still called and in one street Ryeland pointed out to me a string from the top window to the area which was used for the purpose: but more often by professionals than by the police.  Strings to bells, overbeds & pea shooters against window panes, tapping with a fishing rod are the means of awakening in general'.

But calling up wasn't entirely a thing of the past.  On 17 April 1907 the following letter was received by the Home Secretary, William Gladstone, from a Mr James Harper Heron of 146 Leander Road, Brixton Hill (HO 45/10356/151424):


I am taking the liberty of addressing you on a subject concerning the duties of the Metropolitan Police.

Two doors from my house at the above address - that is at 150 Leander Road - a policeman on duty about 3 or 4.00 in the morning knocks loudly and continuously, sometimes for a quarter of an hour, to awaken the occupier. He continues thus thundering at the door till the sleeping inmate - long after neighbours have been awakened - throws up a window and tells him it is "all right". This the policeman does by arrangement.

My next door neighbour at No. 148 occupying the house adjoining the seat of disturbance and a fellow sufferer with me, has for several months made complaint to the local police authorities but the only satisfaction he can get is that the constable is acting in accordance with his duty.

Now the question I wish to put is this - is it the duty of a policeman to create a disturbance of this kind because if so I conceive that some remedy will have to be sought.  It is not merely a question of inconvenience but it is becoming a serious matter of health for people to be disturbed in their sleep in the early morning in this manner.

If any ordinary individual were to knock persistently at the door in this way my neighbour or myself would apply to a policeman to stop the nuisance but here it is a policeman who is the offender.

I beg to enclose my card.  

I am, sir, Your obedient servant

J. H. Heron'  

Not mentioned by Mr Heron in the letter, but no doubt mentioned on his card (which is now missing), is the fact that he was a journalist for the Daily Chronicle, as can be gleaned from the 1911 census.  Electoral Register records tell us that living at the offending address of 150 Leander Road in 1907 was a Charles Henry Hale. 

On receipt of Mr Heron's letter, a file was opened at the Home Office and referred to the Commissioner of Police, Edward Henry, on 19 April 1907. After considering the matter for almost two months, the Commissioner wrote back to the Home Secretary on 5 June 1907 as follows:


With reference to the papers, returned herewith, containing a letter from Mr. J.H. Heron, complaining of being disturbed in the early mornings by a Police Constable endeavouring to arouse the occupier of an adjoining house, I have to acquaint you, for the information of the Secretary of State, that, so far as the exigencies of their duties permit, it has hitherto been the practice of the Police to comply with the request of persons desiring to be called up in the early hours of the morning, but I am of opinion that the service is one that should be rarely rendered as it is most undesirable that a Constable should be trammelled in the performance of his duty by any necessity of being at a particular spot at a fixed time for such a purpose.  Residents can at the present day provide themselves with alarums or in some other way arrange to be awakened at the right time.

With a view to discouraging the practice I propose that par.40 of the Revised Section XXXIII of General Orders (Vide P.O. of the 17th March 1906) shall be amended so that it shall read as follows, viz;-

"No money or gift to be received by the Police for calling up persons in the morning. This is a service which should be very rarely rendered and when rendered should be gratuitous"

I am,


Your most obedient servant,

(signed) E.R. Henry  

(The reference to the P.O. of 17 March 1906 was to a reproduction of the 1873 General Orders which had been consolidated into a section entitled "Divisions, Beats, Fixed Points".)

In red ink, a Home Office official added to the revised order: 'Tho the Police should when they can render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants but they cannot undertake to be at a given place at a fixed hour every day.  This is therefore [a service which should be very rarely rendered and when rendered should be gratuitous.]'

Below this in pencil is written:

['Tho the Police should when they can render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants, this particular service is one which can be very rarely rendered, should be gratuitous: the police cannot generally undertake to be at a given place at a fixed hour every day.']  

On 10 June 1907, a Home Office official noted that the General Order was to be amended from 'The Police are to render this or any other service in their power to inhabitants' to 'This is a service which should very rarely be rendered' with the comment:

'This proposed amendment...certainly seems a good one. But see marked passage of the letter where Mr Heron says he has repeatedly complained to the local police about the disturbance in this particular case: would it be well to suggest that the G.O. should be further amended with a view to securing that complaints in any case shall be reported to the Superintendent of Scotland Yard, and the question considered whether having regard to the complaints the service can still be rendered?'

To this, another Home Office official replied on 14 June:

'I think so.  It does not seem reasonable nowadays that a constable should be employed in awakening private persons; they are not likely to do it without pay, and payments are objectionable. The practice must be a serious nuisance to the neighbours.'

Someone else noted that:

'"Waking up" is done in some northern towns by professional "knockers up" generally old people or cripples. It is not proper police work.'

The final word amongst the Home Officials was:

'There seems to be no reason to make any special regulation as to complaints against the Police in this matter. The general regulations as to complaints will apply. "Knocking up" is not a Police duty but it is very desirable that the Police should make themselves generally useful as in most matters they now do. I am sorry the Commissioner proposes to withdraw the words 'The Police are to render this or any other service in their power to inhabitants'.

A subsequent note by the same individual on 9 July 1907 stated:

'The Commissioner I understand agrees to modify his order as shown in pencil.  Approve accordingly'.

A revised Police Order was issued on 30 July 1907 as follows:

'No money or gift is to be received by the police for calling persons up in the morning. Though the police should, when they can, render this or any other service in their power to the inhabitants, this particular service is one which can be very rarely rendered, and when rendered, should be gratuitous: the police cannot undertake to be at a given place at a fixed hour every day.'

It's not entirely clear how this new P.O. would have helped Mr Heron because it allows calling up to continue by constables albeit that it repeats that it should not be done for money. It's a bit of a fudge really but we can see that the file confirms that calling up persons in the morning was part of normal police practice by constables 'so far as the exigencies of their duties permit'  albeit that it was not regarded as a duty.  It was also confirmed that it was a gratuitous service, i.e. one done free of charge, although we can see that at least one Home Office official believed that constables would not perform this service without pay, despite believing that such payments were objectionable.

Some other police forces around the country subsequently appear to have stopped the practice being carried out by their officers.  The Guardian of 12 May 1909 carried the following story:


A good deal of discontent exists amongst the Hull policemen at the decision of the Chief Constable, who has issued an order against the practice of policemen receiving pay for knocking-up people anxious to be astir in the early hours.

Professional civilian knockers-up complained of the competition by the policemen, and the Chief Constable gave the order that his men had not to continue the practice.  Some policemen made 5s a week by it.

The policemen have now petitioned the Chief Constable, but he insists upon his men receiving no pay for knocking-up.'

Ten years later, the Thanet Advertiser of 21 June 1919 carried this story:



For many years past the compulsory early-riser of Ramsgate – the alarm-clock-proof resident who had to be up betimes to commence the daily round of common, or uncommon, toil – has been able to avail himself of the services of our excellent police force to arouse him from his slumbers.

“It was quite a simple business.  If you wished to be “called” in the wee small hours, and could not depend on being awakened by the matutinal crowing of the “lusty bird which takes each hour for dawn” you just notified to the local police office that at a certain time you wished to be roused from your slumber, and the payment of a couple of coppers ensured that another copper – one of our stalwart custodians of law and order who keep watch and ward in the silence of the night – would give the necessary intimation that you were up and doing.  By “taking a quantity” i.e. by giving a “standard order” to be called – the fee was reduced to the nimble penny per call.

The receipts from this source, we understand, were pooled, a sergeant of the force was appointed hon. treasurer of the fund, and periodically the amount was shared among the constables.  It was not a big item but the proceeds proved very acceptable to the recipients and the arrangement was an undoubted convenience to many residents of the borough.

But the old order changeth, yielding place to new, and instructions were issued a few weeks since that the practice of so many years was to be discontinued. It is stated that the work at Richborough…led to so many requests for “calls” by the police in the early morning that compliance meant a deviation from the ordinary police tour of duty.

So Robert no longer “knocks up” the tired citizen. And alarm clocks have reached an alarming figure.

One might have thought, however, that the police might have been allowed to retain their old “customers,” and in any case the explanation regarding Richborough is regarded in many quarters as a weak one.

At about the same time, Arthur Evans was joining the Brighton Police Force, having served in the navy during the First World War.   According to his recollections on a tape recording in the 1960s (East Sussex Record Office SPA/10/11/9):

'Constables' duties were very mixed: at night they knocked up railway workers and others for their shifts. For this they were entitled to 3d per week 'call money', collected Saturdays: the younger men were too proud to ask for it and it often went to the old hands who relieved them.' 


The picture presented by the known evidence relating to calling up by police in the Metropolitan Force is somewhat confusing.  On the one hand the regulations seem to be crystal clear that money was not to be received for calling up (with some evidence of enforcement of this), yet on the other hand we seem to have four specific examples of unpunished constables receiving call money after the 1853 regulations: P.C. Cavanagh in about 1855, the unidentified police officer who spoke to an American journalist in 1862, P.C. Berrett in the 1890s and the publican who said in 1897 he gave money to officers nominally for calling him up. There is also the gossip of the umbrella mender to the Daily Telegraph journalist in 1880 and the report of the London Daily News in 1870 that money was being accepted.  P.C.s Machell and Ryeland in the late 1890s also appeared to confirm that police had accepted money for calling up, although both described it as in the past.  

In truth, these examples are not conclusive proof that the practice was widespread throughout the entire police force even though they are suggestive that this was the case. What we lack is any information as to whether the constables were declaring receipt of the money through official channels and whether the Commissioner or Chief Constables were approving the payments as being gratuities, thus allowing the officers involved to keep the money despite the regulations suggesting that no money should have been paid for the service at all.

The attitude of the authorities in 1907 is clear but it is impossible to know if this reflected the attitude in earlier years and in 1888 in particular.  The attitude of the Commissioner might have changed according to the individual holding that post.  Sir Charles Warren was a soldier, not a policeman, and might not even have known of the existence of the practice of knocking up, hence we don't seem to have any examples of disciplinary action against it while he was in charge.  Having said this, Police Orders normally only contain details of offences resulting in dismissal, compulsory resignation or class reduction and the reasons for fines, or other forms of disciplinary action, are not explained.  There are also a lot of examples of disciplinary action taken against officers who accepted gratuities without declaring them but it is rarely stated why those gratuities were given so we don't know if any of them included tips for calling up.

Despite the comments of one official in 1907 it seems clear that knocking up was a police duty, at least in the sense that any neglect of it was to be reported, but I don't wish to draw any firm conclusions as to whether accepting money was allowed or tolerated at the highest levels, contrary to the regulations.  I'm not sure it's possible to do so. The purpose of this article has been to collate and present all the known evidence.  If any further examples come to my attention I will update the article.  

David Barrat
25 May 2017 (updated 8 July 2019)