Poor Laws, Apprentice Papers


Apprenticeship Papers

Apprenticeship Agreements were papers documenting an agreement between one party and the would-be master taking on the apprentice. There were three main types of apprenticeship:

  • Pauper apprenticeships - arranged by the parish officers for the children of paupers. This apprenticeship documents are well-indexed at Lincoln Archives.
  • Charity apprenticeships - arranged by the parish officers or solicitors - usually as a result of someone leaving an annual sum in their will for apprenticing a certain number of poor children. Many of these are indexed, but not all.
  • Parent or Guardian apprenticeships - arranged by the family to ensure that a child would have training and future employment. These may often be with relatives or with master craftsmen in the father's trade. Documents remained with the family of the apprentice. However, between 1710 and 1804 a tax was charged for apprenticeship and apprenticeships were recorded by the Inland Revenue. These are held at The National Archives (formerly Public Record Office) at Kew.

Where a child was without parents, the parish would try and find an apprenticeship for them to relieve the burden on the parish funds. These can date from 1601 to 1834.

Anne Cole reports:

"The usual age for apprenticeship was 14, although I have seen children as young as 7 being apprenticed by the parish under the "old" Poor Law (pre-1834). For work, it would seem that 11 or 12 was a "suitable" age. In the workhouse minutes there are examples of parents asking for money for the premium required for apprenticing their children (they were refused), instances of boys saying that so and so would take them as an apprentice, and examples of people offering to take the children of relatives. In the first and second examples, I am sure that the overseers of the poor in the parishes and the guardians of each parish will have had a hand in finding masters for apprentices chargeable to their parish, and in finding situations for boys and girls of a particular age."

Anne Cole tells us in "Poor Law Documents Before 1834", that:

"A large number of pauper children were put out as apprentices by parish officers. Many were orphans and very young. The apprentice, provided that he served for forty days and slept for the last forty days of his apprenticeship in his master's house, gained a settlement in the parish where his master lived. To all intents and purposes, the apprentice became a member of the master's family. If the master wanted to move to another parish, his apprentice was named on his settlement certificate. Likewise, if the master was removed back to his place of settlement, the apprentice followed. The apprentice lived with his master throughout his apprenticeship, and the master took on the role of surrogate father. If his master died, the apprentice could be re-assigned to another master by the parish officers."

"The apprenticeship could be chancelled only by the mutual agreement of the apprentice, the master and the parish officers. If the apprentice had been badly mistreated and the case went to Quarter Sessions, the Justices of the Peace could then cancel the apprenticeship. Masters were chosen by the parish officers or by ballot. In some parishes the inhabitants simply took turns to take an apprentice. Masters could only refuse to take an apprentice on payment of a fine. The apprenticeship was paid for by the parish, unless the child's parent could afford to pay some of the fee, to which the parish would make up the difference. Two Indentures were made out on one piece of paper, one above the other, and signed by the overseer, churchwarden, the master and two Justices of the Peace. The paper was then cut in half in such a way that when the two papers were fitted together they matched perfectly, and a forged indenture could not be used at a later date. One copy of the indenture was kept in the parish chest, the other was taken by the master and presented to the apprentice at the end of his apprenticeship. The indentures always gave the names of the apprentice, the master and the parish to which the apprentice belonged. Other information which may be found includes the names of the apprentice's parents, his age, the parish of residence, the occupation of the master, and the trade of calling that the apprentice was to learn. The latter may differ from the stated trade of the master."

"Some apprentices served masters who lived in the same parish as themselves, others were apprenticed outside the parish and thus gained a settlement elsewhere. Relatives were often named as the masters of pauper children. A second husband might take his wife's son by her first husband as an apprentice, thus ensuring that the whole family could claim the same place of legal settlement."

She goes on to tell us:

"In 1710 a stamp duty was imposed on apprenticeships and because of this the Inland Revenue were involved. Registers of apprentices were kept by the IR from 1710 to 1811 for the whole country. The originals are at the Public Record Office at Kew and there are copies of some of the registers, with indexes to apprentices and masters, at the Society of Genealogists. They have published quite a few of the indexes on microfiche. A project to extract all the Lincolnshire apprentices and masters is complete, see below."

It was a serious breach of social faith and law to leave an Apprenticeship without permission. This article is taken from the Lincolnshire, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 29 September 1814:


WHEREAS EDWARD STEDDER, Apprentice to THOMAS DREWRY, of Folkingham, in the county of Lincoln, Joiner and Cabinet maker, RAN AWAY from his master's service, on the night of Saturday the 3rd of September, last, this is to give notice that a warrant hath been obtained for his apprehension and that any person harbouring the said apprentice after this notice will be prosecuted as the law directs. The said Edward Stredder is about 5 feet 6 inches high, 18 years of age, of a light make, fair complexion, dark hair and light eyes, a broadish nose, turns in one of his toes in walking, and rather stoops; had on when he went away a good bottle green coat, light striped waist coat, light drab worsted cord breeches, and light stockings."

The Lincolnshire Family History Society has published this index for your use:

  • Lincolnshire Masters & Apprentices, vol 1 on ten microfiche. To purchase this index, the LFHS recommends using the Federation of Family History Societies Bookstore, which allows purchase by Credit Card.
  • Lincolnshire Masters & Apprentices, vol 2 on ten microfiche. These are the Inland Revenue apprenticeship records of 1711-1810. Purchase as above.

As an example, here's a list of "proper paper indentures, apprenticeships arranged by the overseers and churchwardens of various parishes," as provided by Anne Cole:

  • Anne S apprenticed to John N & Abigail his wife to learn reading, sewing and housewifery, 1658 (with the consent of her [named] uncle)
  • Rachell B dau of William B apprenticed to John F shoemaker to learn housewifery and household affaires, 1695
  • Elizb L apprenticed to John G to learn Housewifery, 1698
  • Bernard P apprenticed to Abraham R of Derbyshire, chapman to be instructed in the art trade and mistery of a chapman of all sorts of glas, mugs, earthen ware & woden wares, 1714
  • Will. T apprenticed to Jno M to learn the art of a servant, 1732
  • Joseph B aged 10 apprenticed to John Y to learn husbandry, 1784
  • Mary M apprenticed to Susanna E of Spalding to learn the art of a mantua maker, 1799
  • Thomas W apprenticed to Samuel L to learn "the art of farm", 1725