Friday, 26 August 2011

More on apprentice records

From Ancestry (, more on its new UK Register of Apprentices' Indentures collection:


Registers from golden age of craft & trade digitised on

* One million masters and apprentices listed in comprehensive collection
* Britons such as Jenner, Blake and Chippendale included
* Records show the large sums of money paid by parents to have their children apprenticed
* Females paid more for their apprenticeships than males, the UK’s favourite family history website,1 today launched online the UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices' Indentures, 1710-1811, which detail the boys and girls entering trades in the days when apprenticeships were an integral part of the work system.

While modern apprenticeships were reintroduced in 1995 and the concept has taken on new meaning with the well-known TV show, these records come from a time when apprenticeships were a legal requirement in order for someone to take up a desired trade. The collection includes thousands of aspiring blacksmiths, coopers, tanners, bakers, drapers, toymakers, barbers, butchers and many more.

Apprenticeships became a legal obligation in 1563, but official records of such working agreements weren’t kept until the early 18th century, when the government began taxing the premium paid by parents to masters for taking on their children.

As it is today, education and training in the 18th century was big business, with an apprenticeship costing parents between £10 and £50 – equivalent to £1,700-£8,600 today. Some apprenticeships to the most eminent merchants would even cost as much as £1,000 (£175,000 in today’s money) so it wasn’t uncommon for parents to pay in instalments or part-pay in goods such as food or precious items. Regardless of how the apprenticeship was paid, the government took a cut of every premium upon completion of tenure.

As a result, some 523,000 records of indenture are included in this collection, which lists the name of the apprentice and their master, the trade and workplace location, and the premium paid for the apprenticeship. Among these thousands of records are some of history’s greatest Britons, including:

• Edward Jenner – Known as the ‘Father of Immunology’ and developer of the smallpox vaccine. While academics previously believed that Jenner had been apprenticed to a surgeon named Daniel Ludlow, the records reveal that his master was actually named George Hardwick, an apothecary based in Chipping-Sodbury. The cost of his training was £100 (equivalent to £14,000 today).

• William Blake – Artist, writer and poet, considered one of the greatest in British history. Blake was apprenticed to engraver and stationer James Basire in 1772 (aged 14). It was during this apprenticeship that he was sent to study and draw images found within London’s gothic churches, which helped develop his distinctive style. His parents paid Basire £53 for his seven years training (£6,700 today).

• Thomas Chippendale – Maker of the famous Chippendale furniture that inspired centuries of design. He is listed as a master employing an apprentice named Nathaniel Hopson in 1774 for the sum of £31 (£5,000 today).

The vast majority (around 97 per cent) of apprentices were boys, with the most common trades being coopers, tailors and carpenters. Of the small number of girls included in the collection, most are listed as apprentice tailors, seamstresses and mantua makers (dressmakers) and would frequently pay a greater premium for their indenture.

Masters were often friends of the family, with many trades were dominated by a small number of well-networked families. For those less well-connected, it wasn’t uncommon to advertise in the local newspaper to find a master, and conversely masters would often advertise to find a likely apprentice.

Despite the title of apprentice being one that was often paid for, much desired and legally binding, it is thought that only about 50 per cent of apprentices completed their terms. Some were ill-treated, some ran away and in other cases their masters became ill, went bankrupt, absconded from their families, or died. In the latter cases, the child might be "turned over" to another master.

The number of apprentices who ran away was always higher during periods of foreign wars when some found refuge from uncongenial trades and masters in the army or navy. In Warwickshire, for instance, advertisements in the local newspapers by masters trying to trace their runaway apprentices reach a peak in 1810-11 during the Napoleonic Wars. International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “Most people might think of Lord Sugar when they hear the word apprentice, but the role was integral to the British way of life for centuries – so important that parents would often pay vast sums to have their child educated by the master seen as the best in his field.”

Access the collection at

(With thanks to Ancestry)


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