The length of time involved in an apprenticeship – often seven or even ten years – inevitably meant that there were problems, some more serious than others. The records cared for by Warwickshire County Record Office can tell some sad tales.
Badly treated by their Masters
In 1773 Jonas Faulks of Leamington Hastings was discharged from his apprenticeship to Francis Martin, tailor of Bedworth, because the latter did not provide enough food, refused to teach him the trade, and beat him ‘with great cruelty and violence’.1 Richard Beesley of Ansley was apprenticed to framework knitter, Thomas Abbott of Wolvey.2 In 1804 he complained that he had been assaulted and violently beaten by his master who had attached a ‘large wooden lager to his leg which occasioned a dangerous wound on one leg and much injured the other’. Richard was freed from his contract, but we don’t know what happened to him afterwards.3
Half-starved by his Master
An apprentice’s well being depended upon the goodwill of his master. A concerned citizen, W. Norton, wrote from Shoreditch to Mr Taylor at Old Pound, Warwick, about the sorry state of his son in 1837. Five years earlier William Taylor had been apprenticed to Mr Moon, a tailor in Coventry who then moved to London. William lived at Mr Moon’s tailor’s shop in Spitalfields, where he was half-starved, never having more than two indifferent meals a day and frequently not any: ‘he is like a beggar, having nothing but rags & wearing no shirt’. In all his distressful condition was ‘enough to move the heart of the most indifferent’. Mr Moon made the excuse that his trade had fallen off. Happily the story ended well, for other documents relate that the boy was released from his apprenticeship and returned to Warwick.4
Killed by her Mistress
The burial register for Studley records the sad death of 10-year old Mary Allen in 1783, at the hands of her mistress, Ann Pratt, a farmer’s wife of Leather Iron in the parish. The Assizes only found Ann guilty of manslaughter, but the vicar wrote in the register that the jurors had recorded a verdict of murder.5 A more detailed account of this tragedy can be found elsewhere on this website.
Ran away and stole from his Master
The faults were not all on the side of the employer: In 1787 Samuel Wickes wrote to inform the Shipston overseers of the poor about the disappearance of his apprentice Edward Hervey. Samuel was particularly aggrieved because Edward had drawn 3s 6d (around 18p) in Wickes’ name from his workmaster and helped himself to two of his son’s shirts and two pairs of stockings from the cellar.6
Masters ran off too
In 1668 Joseph Wallacksall, a tailor of Birmingham, disappeared and could not be found (the record does not say whether he left debts or a wife and children behind, but it seems likely there was a reason for his sudden departure). In these circumstances the tailor’s apprentice, Thomas Hill, was discharged from his apprenticeship by the magistrates.7
This article is based on material from several exhibitions presented by Warwickshire County Record Office.
References (all Warwickshire County Record Office reference numbers unless stated.
1 Discharge from Apprenticeship, 1773. DR 43A/146.
2 Wolvey Apprentice Indenture, 1803. DR 479/36/9.
3 I cannot find a relevant meaning for ‘lager’ in the dictionary, but it sounds as though it was a ‘lagger’ i.e. a sort of home-made ball and chain to prevent Richard from straying far or running away. Discharge from Apprenticeship, 1804. DR 479/36/1.
4 Warwick Apprentice Documents. CR 1618/WA6/257/1.
5 Studley Burial Register, 11th September 1783. DR 536/2.
6 Shipston on Stour, Discharge from Apprenticeship. DR 446/91/63.
7 Warwickshire QS Order Book Vol. V, 1665-74, p. 102.