Apprenticeship Indentures and Disciplinary Cases (IA)

The interior of a weaver's workroom, to the left, an apprentice is busy at his loom, while to the right his fellow apprentice is asleep at his.  To extreme left, the Master is raising a cane, in the centre there is a spinning-wheel and a cat on its hindlegs, with additional objects including a tankard, a spinning wheel and spindle wound with silk thread.  Symbolic embellishments added to the margin include the Mace, the Lord Mayor's Chain, fetters and halter. William Hogarth. Finished drawing for Plate 1 of Industry and Idleness (1747), The fellow 'prentices at their looms. British Museum, Binyon 1, Croft-Murray (unpublished) 25, Oppe 41. © Trustees of the British Museum.


Apprenticeship had long served as a means of training boys (and some girls) in crafts and trades as preparation for becoming an independent craftsman in adult life. Apprenticeship was in decline in the eighteenth century, as wage labour became more common and it became more difficult to set up as a master. Nonetheless guilds such as the Carpenters' Company continued to enrol apprentices, and pauper apprenticeship continued to flourish as a means by which parishes and charitable institutions could prepare young people for future employment.1

This website includes a wide range of documents providing evidence of apprenticeship, as explained in the Research Guide. Records in this series (IA) include apprenticeship indentures and a log of disciplinary cases against errant apprentices.

The formal apprenticeship document binding Francis Baker to John Cartar London Metropolitan Archives, St Botolph Aldgate, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1691-1700, Ms 10027, LL ref: GLBAIA107000009

Apprenticeship Indentures

An Apprenticeship Indenture is a legal document binding a child (usually around the age of 12 or 13 but sometimes as young as 7) to a master or mistress for seven or more years. A sum of money (premium or consideration) was usually paid to the master, and in exchange he (or more rarely, she) agreed to train the child in their trade or profession, and to supply them with appropriate food, clothing and lodging for the duration of the apprenticeship. An indenture needed the signature of a Justice of the Peace in order to become legally enforceable.2

Two copies of any indenture were normally made, one of which was kept by the parents (or parish) on behalf of the apprentice, and the other by the master. The wavy edge on one side of most indentures was designed to act as a guarantee that the two copies were created as part of a single legal agreement.

Indentures were formal documents normally drawn up by a professional clerk and contain a large amount of formulaic language and legal jargon. Nonetheless, they provide useful information about the origin and identity of the apprentice and the master, and identify the trade in which the apprentice would be trained.

Parish Apprenticeship

Most of the indentures reproduced here are included because they have been preserved in parish archives, and illustrate the kinds of training available to pauper children, and the substantial role of parishes in organising the training of poor children. Until 1692 parish children could be apprenticed to a local household against the wishes of the child, or his or her parents, and with no premium being paid to the master. This practise appears to have been particularly common in rural parishes.3 From 1692 apprenticeship of even a short duration also became a means of gaining a settlement, and overseers have been accused of subsequently seeking to apprentice difficult children outside their own parish in order to save the cost of future poor relief. The evidence from London and for the eighteenth century, however, suggests that the system of parish apprenticeship was both more humane and flexible than this description would imply. The common London practise of sending a child On Liking for up to forty days, for example, provided an opportunity for parish apprentices to exercise a veto over the proposed apprenticeship by making themselves objectionable to an unacceptable master.

Both boys and girls were apprenticed. Boys could be apprenticed to the full range of occupations from chimney sweep to apothecary and engineer. Girls, on the other hand, were normally apprenticed to "housewifery", though they could also expect training in forms of work associated with the occupation practised by the household in which they were bound. Until 1767 a parish apprenticeship normally lasted until the age of twenty-four for boys and twenty-one or marriage for girls.

The nature of parish apprenticeship changed following the passage of Jonas Hanway's second Registration Act in 1767, An Act for the Better Regulation of the Parish Poor Children, of the Several Parishes therein Mentioned Within the Bills of Mortality.4 This act lowered the length of time a parish child could be apprenticed to a maximum of seven years, or until the age of twenty-one for both boys and girls. It also stipulated that the minimum fee that could be given with a parish apprentice should be at least £4 2s, and determined that this fee should be paid in two instalments - the second half being paid three years into the apprenticeship. This provision was designed to eliminate abuses by masters who misused or abandoned their apprentices. This same act also legislated for the creation of Registers of Apprentices (RA).5

From the late 1780s many London parishes began to apprentice their pauper children to new mills in the north. St Clement Danes, for instance, apprenticed 64 girls and 125 boys in this way between 1784 and 1799, most of whom went to John Birch's, Backbarrow Mill, Cartmel, in Lancashire (now Cumbria).6

A page from the Bridewell apprenticeship records reflecting the four Bridewell apprentices London Metropolitan Archives, Bridewell and Bethlem, Apprentice Records, 1710-94, 33144-1, LL ref: GLBRIA200000048.


Besides acting as a house of correction, Bridewell Hospital also acted as an industrial school, with Apprentice (or Arts) Masters employed to train boys from London in a range of occupations. A variety of records on this website provide evidence of who the apprentices were, the conditions they experienced, and the governors' decisions about their fates. The documents in the IA record series constitute a log of disciplinary cases concerning apprentices who misbehaved between August 1710 and May 1794.

The volume starts with an alphabetical index. The remainder consists of individual entries for each apprentice, indicating the date, their name, the name of their master, the offence, and any punishments or sanctions they received. Space between the entries allowed the clerks to add any subsequent additional offences by the same apprentice.

Bridewell apprentices had a reputation for disorderly behaviour outside the hospital, particularly participating in riots at fairs such as Bartholomew and Southwark Fairs, or in support of the Jacobite cause in the early eighteenth century.7 The apprentices were supposed to attend fires in the City of London to help put them out, but were accused of misbehaving instead. Although a few such offences are listed, the vast majority of the infractions in this log were simply that the apprentice had run away, typically returning within a few days. Many ran away repeatedly during the time of their service. Others were accused of staying out late, spoiling work, using saucy language, and committing assaults, both inside and outside the hospital.

In most cases no sanction is listed, but the accumulation of evidence allowed the governors to punish repeated delinquencies. Apprentices were corrected (whipped) or ordered to the hemp blocks (to beat hemp, as a form of hard labour), or, in egregious cases, discharged from their indentures and expelled. Some were denied the charity of receiving any money from Lock's Gift when they completed their service. Further evidence of disciplinary actions taken against apprentices can be found in the Minutes of the Court of Governors (MG).

Introductory Reading

  • Lane, Joan. Apprenticeship in England, 1600-1914. 1996.
  • Levene, Alysa. "Honesty, Sobriety and Diligence": Master-Apprentice Relations in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century England. Social History, 33:2 (2008), pp. 183-200.
  • Honeyman, Katrina. Child Workers in England, 1780-1820: Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force. Aldershot, 2007.
  • Hindle, Steve. "Waste" Children? Pauper Apprenticeship Under the Elizabethan Poor Laws, c. 1598-1697. In Lane, Penelope; Raven, Neil and Snell, Keith, eds, Women, Work and Wages in England, 1600-1850. Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004.

Online Resources

For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.

Documents Included on this Website

  • St Botolph Aldgate, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1691-1700, London Metropolitan Archives, Ms. 10027, LL ref: GLBAIA10700, Tagging Level: C
  • Bridewell and Bethlem, Apprentice Records, 1710-94, London Metropolitan Archives, Ms. 33144-1, LL ref: GLBRIA20000, Tagging Level: B


1 For a comprehensive guide to the trades practised in eighteenth-century London, the cost of an apprenticeship in them, and the qualities demanded of the apprentices, see R. Campbell, The London Tradesman (1747, 1969).

2 For a comprehensive account of the legal process of binding an apprentice in the eighteenth century, the most authoritative source remains contemporary justicing handbooks. See for instance Richard Burn, The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer (17th edn, 1793), vol. 1, pp. 59-112.

3 See Steve Hindle, "Waste" Children? Pauper Apprenticeship Under the Elizabethan Poor Laws, c. 1598-1697, in Penelope Lane, Neil Raven and Keith Snell, eds, Women, Work and Wages in England, 1600-1850 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004).

4 7 George III c. 39.

5 See James Stephen Taylor, Jonas Hanway: Founder of the Marine Society (Berkeley, California, 1985), ch. 8.

6 Katrina Honeyman, Child Workers in England, 1780-1820: Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force (Aldershot, 2007), p. 266.

7 See the general minute books for an account of their behaviour during a riot on the 5th of November 1718. See also Tim Hitchcock, Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London (2004), pp. 202-4.