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Poor Relief

Apprenticeship Records

Introduction

In 1563 The Statute of Apprentices was introduced .  Under this law, no-one who had not served an apprenticeship was allowed to enter a trade.  However, there was no centralised record of apprentices kept in England and Wales until 1710.  Before this date, you must look for evidence of apprenticeship locally, in the surviving papers of guilds, businesses, charities, families, individuals and in parish collections.  

From 1710, in the reign of Queen Anne, another Statute introduced a stamp duty payment on private indentures of apprenticeship, and records of the duty paid for these apprenticeships were kept.  However, by the 19th century, apprenticeships in common trades were often undertaken without any formal indenture, and in many trades a man would train his sons or other male relatives in the trade without formally apprenticing them.  It was also ruled that the Statute of Apprentices did not apply to 'modern' trades, which did not exist when it was passed in the sixteenth century, so industries like cotton manufacturing did not have to conform.  In addition, in many areas of England, the Statute was not actually enforced as time went on.  

Apprenticeships for poor children, which were paid for by a parish or charity,  were also exempt from this stamp duty payment and therefore there are no centralised records of these apprenticeships.  Records are likely to exist among parish records and the records of charities.  More information on this form of apprenticeship follows.

Parish Apprenticeship

Children who could not be cared for by their own family because they had no parents, or came from a poor family, were a problem to the poor law administrators, as they frequently lacked any means of support, and were too young to earn their own living.  The Poor Law Act of 1597 gave Overseers of the Poor and Churchwardens the power to set these children to work, and so a large number of pauper children were put out as apprentices by parish officers.

Apprenticeship was carried out both by voluntary consent and by the parish officers; both forms of apprenticeship gave the apprentice a legal settlement if he or she served for 40 consecutive days. There were also private charities which made provision for apprenticing poor children.  Children were usually bound at between 7 and 10 years of age.  Later, in the early 19th century, the minimum age was increased to 9 years.

In earlier centuries, children were apprenticed to trades such as butchery, tailoring, tanning, weaving or boot-making.  Increasingly, pauper children in rural parishes were apprenticed instead to husbandry or housewifery on farms, or in private houses and shops.  Many children merely became used as unpaid servants in the houses of their masters.  Charity apprentices - those whose apprenticeship was funded by a wealthy benefactor who founded a charity - fared better, in that they were more likely to be apprenticed to a proper trade.  Records of these charity apprentices may also sometimes be found in parish collections.

When a parish wanted to bind a poor child, the parishioner they had chosen as master or mistress had to take the boy or girl, or pay a fine to be excused.  Apprenticeship was sometimes organised by rotation, or drawn for, as in a raffle.  Relatives sometimes took an orphaned or illegitimate child or a poor member of their family as apprentice; a later settlement examination may tell you this.  The parish paid the apprenticeship fee, and two copies of the indenture were written – one was kept in the parish chest, and the other by the master until the apprenticeship ended, when it was presented to the apprentice.

In effect, an apprentice became like a member of the master’s family.  If a master owned or leased land in a parish and lived elsewhere, the apprentice had to live there too; if the master moved from parish to parish, the apprentice moved with him.  If the master died, the apprentice could stay with his widow, or be assigned to another master.  Some landowners who were allocated apprentices assigned them to their tenants.

Apprenticeship was only supposed to be cancelled by mutual agreement of the three parties involved.  However, in practice many apprentices did not stay with their masters. They were often badly treated, and some cases of abuse were brought before the Quarter Sessions Court.  Sometimes they were disobedient or ran away.  When this happened, masters sometimes put advertisements about runaway apprentices in the newspaper.  Sometimes parents refused to allow their children to be bound as apprentices, and records of all of these types of disputes can survive in Overseers' records.

Although compulsory apprenticeship was abolished in 1844, the system of parish apprenticeship continued into the 20th century, despite the efforts of legislators to end it.

Binding Orders and Indentures

These are the principal documents used for the study of parish apprenticeship, and indentures survive among Overseers’ records in larger numbers than any other relevant documents.  Binding orders and indentures record the parish, the name of the apprentice, age (in later indentures), the name, occupation and parish of residence of the master/mistress, and sometimes the arrangement under which the apprentice was to be bound, or the property for which the master was allocated an apprentice.  The indenture named the parish officials, and Justices of the Peace, and was signed by the latter and the master.  Sometimes the parish officers also signed, and the indenture may be endorsed with additional information, such as details of assignment, or the names of the apprentice’s parents. In some cases, separate forms for ASSIGNMENT OF AN APPRENTICE exist.

Apprenticeship Registers

These were to be kept by the Overseers under an Act of 1801-1802, but not all survive.  They usually give more details than the Indentures do, and record information about all the apprentices in a parish even when the Indentures themselves have not survived.

Records of Disputes, Discharge etc

These may be found in parish Overseers’ records or among the Quarter Sessions records.  Later disputes may be reported in the newspaper accounts of Quarter Sessions proceedings.

Lists of Apprentices

If these survive, they will most commonly be found in parish Overseers’ collections.  These lists were usually drawn up in the process of organising the allocation of apprentices to masters

Other Records About Apprenticeship

Details about parish apprentices may also be recorded in parish registers, vestry minutes and overseers’ account books.

Private Apprenticeship

The agreements or indentures themselves are only very occasionally found in parish collections, as the overseers of the poor took no part in these arrangements. They are not usually found in Devon's archive office collections at all, unless they have been deposited as part of family or solicitors’ collections.   There is a section of the Subject Card Index in the Devon Heritage Centre searchroom with the subheading   which includes references to private apprenticeship records, though this index has not been added to for many years.  

For references to more recently deposited private apprenticeship material, you will need to search the Online Catalogues.   

The National Archives hold some records relating to private apprentices. See their online guide to Apprentices and Masters for more information.

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