It would seem that church services in 16th-century England were really chaotic. Dogs would often crowd around the church and would sometimes attack priests when they handed out the communion bread and wafers on the church steps. With this being the case, churches decided to hire people who would shoo the dogs and prevent them from causing trouble.
The dog whipper carried a whip and a long pair of tongs using which he would grab a dog by its neck and physically remove him from the church grounds.
In those times, it was not uncommon for household dogs to accompany their owners, or willfully follow them to the church. Although the dogs would patiently wait outside for the services to be over, fighting would invariable break out among the pack gathered outside the church door. The dog whipper would then pull out his whip and begin lashing at those who made the most noise. The tongs came in handy when the dogs fought back, or when the pack became difficult to control.
Dog-whipping was not only the dog whipper’s job. Sometimes, he would also be the “sluggard waker”, tasked to wake up those who doze off during a church service.
A sluggard waker watched over the attending congregation and if any of them fell asleep, it was his duty to wake them up. He carried a long wooden pole, tipped with a brass knob or a fork, with which he knocked sharply on the heads of the dozing lads, or poked between the shoulder blades with the fork. Some sticks were tipped on both ends—a brass knob (or fork) on one end and a fox tail on the other. If the sluggard waker spied a drowsy female, he used the fluffy end to gently tickle her awake.
The dog whipper was paid in any way possible, such as cash or essential goods. One church in Birchington-on-Sea, in Kent, donated an acre of land to the dog whipper. There is a small park there now, called 'Dog Acre'.
Eventually, the profession faded from the late 18th century onwards, as churches began instructing the people to keep their pets at home. But the legacy of dog whippers live on through the relics found in various churches.
Dog-whipping in the church may no longer be relevant in today’s society, but I believe that churches are still in need of sluggard wakers to this day.
Well, what do you think?