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Berkshire Family Historian
December 2002

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, December 2002 Contents

Apprenticeship documents
Lisa Spurrier

Apprenticeship was the process by which children entered the majority of skilled trades and some professions in the modern period. The institution itself goes back to medieval times, although very few records survive from this period. One example in the Berkshire Record Office is the 1421 apprenticeship (for 12 years) of John son of Alice Spynster of Newbury to butcher William Hackere of Maidenhead.1 Lisa Spurrier, archivist at the Berkshire Record Office, explains the value of these records.

The Statute of Artificers (1563) was an Act of Parliament which made it illegal to practise any craft without having served an apprenticeship of seven years,2 and it remained in force until 1814. Quarter sessions records contain a number of prosecutions under this law, no doubt encouraged by those local businessmen who had served their time and resented the competition. Anyone interested in this aspect of apprenticeship may like to consult an excellent academic study of the subject which is available in the Record Office searchroom: Margaret Gay Davis, The Enforcement of English Apprenticeship: A Study in Applied Mercantilism 1563-1642 (Harvard University Press 1956).

Length of training

In Abingdon, William Mills was prosecuted in 1737 for following the trade of a mercer without having served an apprenticeship.3 One cannot help wondering how much training was actually needed for this occupation; the historian James Sharpe notes in this context that ‘many [crafts] could be learnt in a few weeks’, and apprenticeship for seven years had more to do with controlling adolescent males in the community.4 The 1765 indenture of Richard Smith of Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, to Catharine Warner of Pangbourne, barge builder, for instance, includes the promise that ‘The Goods of his said Mistriss he shall not waste, nor the same without Licence of her to any give or lend. Hurt to his said Mistriss he shall not do, cause or procure to be done; he shall neither buy nor sell without his Mistress’s Licence. Taverns, Inns, or Alehouses he shall not haunt. At Cards, Dice, Tables, or any other unlawful Game, he shall not play.’5 Indentures usually included these kinds of restrictions on the apprentice’s behaviour, although they were usually framed in rather less colourful language; another standard provision forbade the apprentice to marry. A child was usually placed at the age of 14 and would thus normally achieve legal adulthood at 21 about the time his apprenticeship ended. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this; one example is that of seven year old John Berksdell of Englefield, apprenticed to Thomas Clarke, a Reading gardener, in 1709 for 14 years [i.e. until he was 21].6 The Englefield and Thatcham parish records have several instances also of youths apprenticed until the age of 24, such as Joseph Allen’s apprenticeship in 1761 to Hampshire blacksmith Francis Cottrell.7

Indenture of Richard Smith

Indenture of Richard Smith of Whitchurch to Catherine Warner of Pangbourne, 1765 (BRO D/P/91 /14/1) reproduced by permission of the Berkshire Record Office

The vast majority of apprenticeships were privately arranged betweenthe child’s family and the prospective master. The master was indeed often a relative or friend of the child’s parents. The master was paid a cash premium by the child’s family, in return for which he or she undertook to train the child in the relevant profession and to maintain him or her during the apprenticeship. The amount paid varied, depending on the trade to be learnt. The apprentice was not normally paid any wage during his apprenticeship, receiving only bed and board. The vast majority of apprentices were boys, girls being more likely to work in the same households as servants — also given bed and board, but hired by the year and paid a wage.9

The indentures very rarely survive, as once the apprenticeship was completed, it was not normally required any more. Some have been deposited in local record offices, generally as single survivals or as part of a collection of family papers; those at the Berkshire Record Office should be easily accessible via the personal names index. It was not only craftsmen and shopkeepers who took apprentices: most rural and provincial attorneys, apothecaries and surgeons, for instance, were trained by apprenticeship to an existing practitioner — something which led to complaints about lack of skill and low social origins.10 A Berkshire example is the apprenticeship of John Blandy, son of Adam Blandy of Letcombe Regis, to Francis Blandy (clearly a relative of some kind) of Henley-upon-Thames, Oxfordshire, as an attorney’s ‘apprentice, clerk or servant’, in 1729.11

Indenture stamp duty

Family historians whose ancestors were apprenticed by private arrangement between 1710 and 1808(1811 for London), are in luck. During this period a tax (stamp duty) was payable on the indentures, and the Public Record Office has a series of registers of apprenticeship (or more precisely of the payment of the duty on the same). These books contain the name, address and trade of the master, the name of the apprentice (and to 1752 his parents’ names), the length of the term and the date of the articles, although the entries were made, and hence the books are arranged, chronologically by the date the tax was paid, which may be some years into the apprenticeship.12 The Society of Genealogists has compiled indexes to apprentices and masters, 1710-1774, and the PRO has some incomplete indexes to masters for later years. You will need to remember that this stamp duty was payable only on private apprenticeships, and hence those organised by the poor law authorities or by charities will not be mentioned. It was also due only when a formal apprenticeship was entered into by indenture. In many very common trades, a father might well train his son to follow him without going to the expense of drawing up legal documents and paying stamp duty on top. Stamp duty was levied according to the cost of the premium received by the master (6d for every pound under 50 and is for every pound over 50). Some of these apprentice registers have been published by local record societies.13 The Berkshire Record Society may consider an edition of Berkshire apprenticeship records at some point.

Pauper children

The largest number of indentures to have been kept are those made at public expense, by the poor law authorities of pauper children, or by independent charities which specialised in arranging apprenticeships for poor children whose families could not afford a premium. An example of the latter is the Hungerford charity established in 1626 by the gift of local gentleman Vincent Smith ‘towardes the well and orderly puttinge forth and placeing of one or twoe poore boyes or men children of the Towne and parishe of Hungerford aforesayd to be Apprentices, (whose parentes and friendes are not of abilitie to p[er]forme the same’.14

Charlotte Hyde’s wages and working conditions

Charlotte Hyde’s wages and working conditions (BRO DIP 51/14/1) reproduced by permission of the Berkshire Record Office.

The poor law authorities became responsible for apprenticing the children of paupers under an Act of 1597, which also forced potential masters to accept the child.15 Many of the pauper children apprenticed in this way ended up being used as cheap labour rather than actually being taught a real skill. A Berkshire example is Mary Saxton, who became ‘Apprentice in the profession of a Housewife’ in 1741 by the overseers of Wantage, to Dorothy, wife of local innholder Richard Wellman.16 An even more flagrant example of this kind of abuse is found in the 1803 ‘apprenticeship’ of 17 year old Charlotte Hyde of Enborne by the overseers of her parish, to Speen cotton manufacturer Robert Jones, ‘to serve him at his Factory in Speen’ until she was 21. Jones promised to teach her ‘the Art of weaving Calico in a Loom called Gordons Patent Loom’. The true nature of her employment is revealed in the indenture’s laying out rates of pay. Charlotte was clearly to be put to work almost immediately, and would be paid on a piecework basis. She was to work six days a week for 13 hours a day.17 In 1799-1800, the overseers of Thatcham managed to dispose of six 12 or 13 year old girls by apprenticing them all to a ribbon weaver in the parish.18

Apprenticeships of pauper children also often took children away from their home parish. Perhaps this was deliberate policy, as serving an apprenticeship was one of the qualifications for legal settlement in a parish for poor relief purposes, so even if the child was used as cheap labour and as an adult proved unable to maintain him or herself, at least the original parish would no longer be liable. They may have thought the premium money well spent. Obviously this can have real implications for the family historian. For instance, in 1818 Samuel Ford of Pangbourne was apprenticed to George Bowness of the Temple Bar in Middlesex, a fishing rod maker.19 A present day descendant of Samuel might have no reason to know that he had come from Berkshire at all, let alone the parish, and as this was a local charity apprenticeship (Breedon’s Charity), the records are found in the Pangbourne parish records.

New Poor Law

The conditions which such children endured gave rise to the first statutory attempts to regulate child labour: Peel’s Factory Act of 1802, for instance, was aimed specifically for the benefit of pauper apprentices in factories. Ironically, this type of apprenticeship was to decline in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century as employers found they could fill their workforce with children whose families volunteered them for casual employment, and who could (unlike apprentices) be laid off without cost in a poor economic climate.20

Apprenticeship of pauper children did not cease with the establishment of the New Poor Law after 1832, but was taken on by the Boards of Guardians. Pauper service books, where these survive, record such arrangements in summary. The Berkshire Record Office has them for three Poor Law Unions: Bradfield, 1851-1911 (G/B 23), Hungerford, 1877-1917 (G/H 8) and Windsor, 1877-1914 (G/WI 5). These list the name, age and home parish of the young person, the date he or she entered the apprenticeship or other employment, and the name, parish and trade of the master or mistress. One of the Bradfield Union examples is of 14 year old Emma Higgs of Basildon, bound apprentice on 28 November 1856 to a London tailor. This arrangement clearly did not work out, for on 22 April the following year, Emma was bound instead to a Sandhurst shoemaker.21

Not all the cases included are apprenticeships: many, probably most, children were disposed of by sending them into service or casual employment. Indeed, none of the cases in the Hungerford pauper service book are definitely identifiable as being formal apprenticeships, although the volume itself was labelled ‘register of servants and apprentices’.22

The traditional seven year apprenticeship became less common, particularly as time went on. For instance an 1850 apprenticeship bound 14 year old John Hanson to blacksmith Thomas Mersham of Waltham St Lawrence for six years;23 this sounds at first sight as a rather odd period, but may have been to ensure that John was free of his apprenticeship by the time he was 21. In 1852 John Deacon of Pangbourne was apprenticed to William James Ward of Prospect Hill, Tilehurst, gardener, ‘for the term of four Years to learn the art and business of Gardening in all its various branches’.24

Charity accounts and vestry minutes

Where a set of indentures does not survive, poor law or relevant charity accounts may record some information relating to apprenticeships, or they may be mentioned in vestry minutes. For instance the accounts of an apprenticing charity, 1752-1811, are included in a volume of charity accounts preserved in the Englefield parish records. Expenses covered by this particular charity include half the cost of producing the apprenticeship indenture and other legal documents required as well as the premiums to the master and sometimes fitting the child out with a
set of clothing. Entries include one in 1754 ‘Paid Wm Whittingham with Dinah Doe 10’; in other words, the charity paid Whittingham a premium of 10 to take Dinah as an apprentice.25 More information about Dinah may be found in the accompanying collection of apprenticeship indentures, which includes one apprenticing Dinah to William Whittingham of Yattendon, for her to learn mantua making from Whittingham’s wife. The apprenticeship was to last until Dinah was 21, or until she married.26 The charity also ‘Paid Wm Doe for to Cloath his Daughter Dinah Doe ios 6d’. In other cases the clothing money was paid directly to the master, who would then spend it at his discretion. Another expense was that of sending a child to his or her place of apprenticeship. For instance in 1797 the Englefield charity spent 25 on sending ‘young Wells to Ilsley’, accompanied by an adult.27

Decline of apprenticeship

The custom of apprenticeship began to decline in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially after the Statute of Artificers was abolished in 1814. By 1815 masons were complaining that apprenticeship was no longer usual in their trade.28 It continued to provide a legal settlement for poor law purposes. In one case I have come across, in 1919 pregnant 18 year old Dorothy Andrews, staying with her parents in East Hendred, was admitted to Wantage Union Infirmary for the birth of her child. Although she was herself a local girl, Dorothy’s legal settlement derived from the apprenticeship in Sutton Courtenay (in Abingdon Union) in 1879-1884 of her husband, so the Wantage Board of Guardians applied to their counterparts in Abingdon for money to pay for Dorothy’s care.29 Charities offering apprenticeship were finding few applicants by the twentieth century. In 1905, for instance, the Charity Commissioners, enquiring into the endowed charities of Berkshire, observed of Dame Dorothy Harrison’s charity, established in 1690 with objects including the annual apprenticeship of one poor boy of the fairly populous parish of Hurst, that ‘There is not much demand for this charity ... never more than two applications having been under consideration at one time’, even though it offered a way into training in such occupations as wheelwright, carpenter, plumber, builder and baker. The Commissioners also noted that ‘the trustees do not follow the careers of the boys, but two appear to have been successful [since 1886], one as a shoemaker and the other after emigrating to Canada’.30 The trustees here made considerable efforts towards placing children suitably. Approached in 1912 by the father of 16 year old ‘cripple’ Henry George White, who ‘wishes to learn the Boot trade, it is a trade which he can sit at’, Reading shopkeeper Archibald Brown Wagnell had agreed to take on the boy for a premium of 14, and ‘will undertake to teach him the trade of Boot Repairing in all its branches’. One of the trustees visited the shop to ensure the business was as it had been represented, and indentures were then prepared.31

Apprenticeship records can be extremely valuable sources for local, economic, social and family historians. I hope this gives you an idea of the records likely to be available.

Further reading

KM Thompson, ‘Apprenticeship and Bastardy Records’ (Historical Association Short Guides to Records no.29) in KM Thompson (ed), Short Guides to Records 2nd Series: Guides 25- 48 (Historical Association 1997)

Peter Durrant, Berkshire Overseers Papers 1654-1834 (Berkshire Record Society vol 3, 1997)

J A Sharpe, Early Modern England: A Social History 1550-1750 (London 1997)

G D H Cole and Raymond Postgate, The Common People 1746-1946 (4th ed London 1949)

Margaret Gay Davis, The Enforcement of English Apprenticeship: A Study in Applied Mercantilism 1563-1642 (Harvard University Press 1956)


1 BRO D/EZ 34/F1
2 J A Sharpe, Early Modern England, p211
4 J A Sharpe, Early Modern England, p217
5 BRO D/P 91/14/1
6 BRO D/P 52/14/1/15; calendared in Peter Durrant, Berkshire Overseers, Papers no. 1104
7 BRO D/P 130/14/2/10; calendared in Peter Durrant, Berkshire Overseers, Papers no. 1651
8 Cole and Postgate, The Common People, p69
9 J A Sharpe, Early Modern England, pp211, 217
10 J A Sharpe, ibid, pp196-197,217
11 BRO D/EX 1679/39
12 Public Record Office class IR1, available in microform only
13 Examples include editions by the Surrey Record Society of apprenticeships for that county 1711-1731 (ed Hilary Jenkinson 1921), Sussex Record Society for 1710-1752 (ed R Garraway Rice 1924), Wiltshire Record Society for 1710-1760 (ed Christabel Dale 1961) and the Dugdale Society (Warwickshire 1710-1760, ed K J Smith 1975)
14 BRO H/ZQ 1/1
15 KM Thompson, Apprenticeship and Bastardy Records
16 BRO D/P 143/14/1
17 BRO D/P 51/14/1
18 BRO D/P 130/14/1/69-74; calendared in Peter Durrant, Berkshire Overseers’ papers nos. 1656-1661
19 BRO D/P 91/14/1/18
20 Cole and Postgate, The Common People pp 195,208-209
21 BRO G/B 23
22 BRO G/H 8
23 BRO D/P 91/14/1/33
24 BRO D/P 91/14/1/34
25 BRO D/P 52/25/2
26 BRO D/P 52/14/1/29
27 BRO D/P 52/25/2
28 Cole and Postgate, The Common People p176
29 BRO G/A 5/18/45. Henry George Andrews was much older than his wife, being 52 at this time. He had married Dorothy in 1918, having met her in 1914 when he was lodging with her parents in Hendred before joining the Army at the start of the war. Dorothy planned to return to him after the baby’s birth.
30 Charity Commission report on the Endowed Charities of Berkshire (1908)
31 BRO D/QX 3O.

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