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Was a legal requirement for many, many years to be an apprentice before working in a trade. Often started in early teens. Indentures were legally binding documents setting out the terms of the apprenticeship. Both parties held a copy. Only a few indentures survive, less in rural areas.

Apprentices would run away to join army/navy during war time if in a bad situation. The master would then advertise in papers, for their return.

Few women were indentured. Called Freesisters (now Freemen) when Free. Freemen had priviledges like voring in parliamentary and civic elections, exempt from tolls payable on animals/markets/navel impressment.

Word 'citizen' indicates a freeman.

From 1692 an apprentice would lead to settlement in an area - could get rid of difficult children by apprenticing them ourside the area. didn't need parents permission. Also a way to move bastard childen so the parish wasn't responsible for them. Basically cheap labour.

Statute of Artificer and Apprentices 1563:

  • everyone to enter indenture with a master and service an apprenticeship for 7 years.
  • rural householders to be masters and take apprentices to serve in husbandry.
  • rutal labourers couldn't take app. in towns.


  • Guilds in London became 'liveries' - [ Records of London's Livery Companies Online].
  • the 7 years was initially just London but became national.
  • had a registration and an arbitration system for disputes between masters and apprentices.
  • liveries wanted an apprentice to produce a 'masterpiece' before become a master - a form of quality control.
  • Lord Mayors Court was used to release an app. from an indenture. Middlesex Sessions and Quarter Sessions (outside London) also heard disputes.
  • Note you could be a member of a guild and not work in that trade.

In Hereford, labourers and paupers could be Freemen so at election time a condidate mught pay to make some freemen so they would vote for them.

In late 18th century app. began to decline. 1814 aspects of the Act were repealed so eg, you wouldn't get prosecuted for practicing a trade without being Free.

Common features of an indenture

Date - may be regnal years so go to Converter for English Regnal Years to Calendar Years. If in anno domini note the calender in use changed in 1751.

Apprentice - name, father's name, occupation and residence.

Master - name, occupation and residence.

Any other parties involved.


Premium or consideration - there was a tax on apprenticeships so if there is no premium there was no tax to pay. Wages not usually paid.

Term - most 7 years; Crispin's Legacy was 8 years; Covenant Servant was specific period; pauper app. served longer (to age 24 then 21), had binding certificates with the indenture


End of term conditions - maybe money and clothes

Signature and witnesses



  • Greenwich Hospital School (ADM73/421 & ADM73/448)
  • Merchant Seamen BT151 and BT152
  • others

The London Tradesman.

Charity indentures may be in local archives or parish chest material. Also in Churchwardens accounts, Overseers of the Poor minutes, Workhouse minutes, larger parish records, factory App. registers.

London Metro. Archives have Foundling Hospital records.

Staffordshire app records are indexed - Staffordshire Names Index

Look at the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy (? not sure what they hold).

Literature - "Apprenticeship in England 1600-1914" by Joan Lane.