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Berkshire Family Historian
September 2001

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, September 2001 Contents

The Boy Apprentice or White Tie and Tails

Daphne Spurling

In 1771 a 13-year-old boy was apprenticed to Benj. Strutt, a barber, in Ipswich. As a consequence on Thursday 28th June I was at a Banquet at the Guildhall in London to celebrate the 50oth Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers, of which my husband and son are both liverymen. Today's white tie and tails occasion sounds grand but came from humble beginnings - a barber and, in another branch of the family, a carpenter.

But first a little about the Freedom of London and the Livery Companies. Pre-nineteenth century it was necessary for those who plied a trade or made a living in the City of London to be freemen of the City. Indeed that rule still applied to senior ranks of the Corporation of London until 1987. Being a freeman gave one certain legal privileges: exemption from market tolls, naval press gangs and tolls on bringing animals into the City; and the right to vote in parliamentary and civic elections.

There are four ways of becoming a freeman of the City: honorary, apprenticeship for seven years to a master who was a freeman, patrimony (being the son of a freeman) or redemption (purchasing the freedom). Until 1835 to be a freeman of the City one first had to be a freeman of a Livery Company, and that is still the main route today.

The Livery Companies (also known as Worshipful Companies) are the direct descendents of the old medieval guilds that controlled trade and crafts and protected their members' interests. They often had a religious role before the reformation in the sixteenth century. They acted as friendly societies, looking after lively men on hard times and their widows and orphans, and running almshouses and schools such as the Merchant Taylors' and Haberdashers' Aske's Schools, which continue today. I sleep happier at night knowing that I can claim 4 a year if widowed.

By the early nineteenth century few companies retained their strong trade or occupational links, although the past l00 years have seen an increase in these associations. Today there are 100 Livery Companies. New companies, for example Air Pilots and Air Navigators, reflect modern life. The charitable and trade or craft functions still remain. The Plaisterers Company, for example, sponsors plastering competitions and prizes among students, a musical prize at the Guildhall School of Music (run by the Corporation of London), and 'adopted' the Marines during the Falklands War. Probably the main reasons for joining a Livery Company today are networking in the City or a profession (an architect friend joined the Plumbers Company), social and tradition (our son is the 6th generation spanning nearly 200 years).

The intermingled stages are first to become a freeman of a Livery Company, then to become a freeman of the City of London, and finally to be robed as a member of the Livery of the Company. Most liverymen progress through the hierarchy to become members of the court and in due course the Master of the Company for a year. This has happened to all members of my husband's family except himself and his father who both lived and worked overseas.

But to return to Stephen Spurling, the barber's apprentice. We don't know when he moved to London but he was living in Great Prescot Street, Whitechapel, when he married in April 1783 and when he was buried in May 18041. We also knew from the list of Masters at the Plaisterers Hall that seven of his descendants have been Masters in the Plaisterers Company starting with his son John Henry in 1829. The Guildhall Library holds many records and books of this Companv and so we learnt that John Henry became a freeman on 17,th March 1817. As John Henry was charged 3 he joined by Redemption (patrimony was i), as his father was not a member of the Plaisterers.

We had not thought of Stephen being a freeman of London until we noticed on an envelope among my father-in-law's papers the words 'R. Spurling of London, Barber, Freeman of City of London, 6 May 1783'. We first tried the Corporation of London Record Office in the Guildhall complex which keeps a record of the Freemen of the City. The search can be very time consuming, as they are only name indexed within each year. The records start in 1309 and are complete from 1681 to 1940 except, unfortunately, for a 20-year gap around 1783. Back at the Guildhall Library, we found him in the records of the Worshipful Company of Barbers2. Like the majority of new members he was a barber. We then searched the Apprenticeship records in the Society of Genealogists and at the PRO, Kew and found his servitude to Benj. Strutt of Ipswich for a consideration of five guineas3.

Stephen was born near Ipswich and moved with his parents to Dedham in Essex in 17624.

As a general rule, an ancestor was probably a freeman if he lived in the City or if he is described as 'a citizen and [something] of London'. But why did Stephen who lived in Whitechapel from 1783 to 18035 become a freeman of London? We have not found him in the Boyd's Citizens of London or Directories of London for the period but suspect that he may have practised his craft in the City. Certainly he must have been fairly successful as he left the equivalent of 126,000 in today's money. In addition we know from family letters that several of his great grandchildren remembered a story that his son John Henry was advised to go into the Stock Exchange by Mr. Salomon whose hair he was cutting. In fact the advice was so important that a photo or engraving of Mr. Salomon in robes hung at their grandfather's home. The SE Registers at the Guildhall Library are a fantastic resource as they include the annual application forms with home and business addresses, banker, partners and clerks. What more can one ask for? In 1804, the year after of his father's death, John Henry was the clerk to Nathan Salomon of the Stock Exchange. In 1809 Nathan did not reapply and in 1810 John Henry joined the Stock Exchange. His son and several grandsons followed him into the Stock Exchange and into the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers.

The Livery Company records provide a wealth of information about the liveryman and his progress up to Master. For example, in 1858 Henry Mott, clerk to the Plaisterers Company, wrote to John Henry's son Pereival: ' ... I was requested at the last court to ascertain whether it would be agreeable to you to serve the office of Renter Warden. The duties appertaining to it are very trifling and the court meets for one hour for the dispatch of business but six times a year........ 6 Haven't we all been told on being asked to do a job that the duties are very trifling and the meetings short? In 1966 the current clerk who was Henry Mott's grandson welcomed to the Company Pereival's great grandson, Andrew. In another twist of fate the Chamberlain who swore in Andrew as a freeman of London was Charles Richard Whittington. We didn't ask if he had a cat.


1 London Metropolitan Archives m/f marriage X024/099, burial X24/113

2 Guildhall Library, Monthly Court Meeting of the Barbers' Company 6 May 1783 MS 5257, Vol. 11 (1778-1803).

3 Society of Genealogists, The Apprentices of Great Britain 17631774 Vol. 6 Book Folio 58/21.

4 Essex Record Office, Dedham Poor Law Settlement records D/P 26/13/1, and Essex Family History Society m/f Index to Poor Law Settlement Papers.

5 London Metropolitan Archives, Tithe books P93/MRY1/202

6 Guildhall Library Plasterers Company Clerks Letter Book 184483, Ms 6130


Further reading:

Vivienne E Aldous, My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, Society of Genealogists, 1999

Research Guide 1: City Freedom. Corporation of London Records Office Archives, 1996

Handbook for Information and Use of Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers of the City of London, 1985

The Livery Companies of the City of London, Corporation of London

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