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Apprentices of Great Britain 1710-1774

UPDATE We are currently working on the Apprentices of Great Britain records. They will be available on the site again soon.

These records are abstracts from tax records kept by the Inland Revenue.

They are of exceptional value to the family history researcher, containing the name of the apprentice, in most cases the name of the apprentice's parent or guardian (usually the father, though sometimes the mother, if the father was dead), the place the apprentice came from, his father's trade, the name of the master to whom he was indentured, the master's trade, the place where the master lived, and the value of the premium paid to the master for taking on the apprentice.

About 350,000 indentures are included from all over Great Britain (about 20% are Scottish).

Apprentice indentures and taxation

An apprenticeship indenture was a legal document whereby a master, in exchange for a sum of money (the 'premium'), agreed to instruct the apprentice in his or her trade or 'mystery' for a set term of years. The provision of food, clothing and lodging was generally part of the agreement.

An Act of Parliament in Queen Anne's reign (8 Anne, cap. 5) ruled that from 1 May 1710 a tax was to be paid on all apprenticeship indentures excepting those where the fee was less than one shilling or those arranged by parish or public charities. Trades which had not existed in 1563 when the Statute of Apprentices became law were also not liable to the tax. The most notable example of this was the cotton industry. A later Act (9 Anne, cap. 21) made the tax permanent, but it was abolished in 1804. The last tardy payments continued to trickle in until January 1811.

The tax, paid by the master not more than one year after the end of the apprenticeship, was at the rate of 6d (2½ pence in today's terms) in the pound on agreements of £50 or less, plus one shilling (5p) for every pound above that sum. The payment of tax was to be entered on the reverse of the indenture, which was void without this payment. Evasion, however, was common in certain areas such as the Yorkshire woollen industry.

The Apprentice Tax paid was recorded in books, or registers. These are divided into 'town' (i.e., London) and country but the town volumes include indentures from outside London.

The books were kept by the Inland Revenue Office at Somerset House, The Strand, London and few genealogists knew of their existence until 1921, when a founder member of the Society, Gerald Fothergill, brought them to the attention of the Executive Committee. A deputation from the Society went to Somerset House to argue for their being made more accessible and as a result they were moved in that year to the Public Record Office (now The National Archives) (series IR 1). So important did the Executive Committee consider this series that it voted £100 towards the indexing of it and asked members to subscribe additional funds for the project.

The premium

The amount paid to the master varies enormously, and it is far from clear what criteria applied. The premiums are usually a few pounds or tens of pounds, but can be several hundred pounds (multiply by 100 to get an idea of the amount in today's terms): for example, John Abercromby was apprenticed in 1768 to 'Jane & Peter & Dan & John Berthomas', of Gracechurch, London, merchants, for a premium of £500. (This is possibly the highest recorded in these records.) Most sums are rounded to the shilling or sixpence; however, there are some very odd values (particularly with Scottish indentures): amounts as £30-6/8 are unsurprising, since 6/8 is 1/3 of a pound, we have sums like £36-18/5¼, and £30-18/6 2/3. The amount 2/2 2/3 is perhaps explicable – it is 1/9 of a pound – and maybe 11/1 1/3 (5/9ths), but the others are more difficult to understand.

What do these records tell you?

The genealogical value of these records is great. They cover a span of nearly 100 years roughly corresponding to the 18th century. Up to about 1745–1750, the name, occupation and place of origin of the father (designated 'deceased' where appropriate), guardian or widowed mother of the apprentice is usually given. The name, occupation and place of work of the master are given throughout the series. It shows the children of tradesmen, skilled artisans, yeomen farmers and even minor gentry learning occupations other than those of their fathers. A young artisan may pop up in a marriage register in the City of London or other large commercial centre, but no trace can be found of his origins. This series may help solve that problem or lead you to a local, official enrolment of the indenture. There are well over a million names of masters and apprentices in the original registers.

The abstracts of the original records were typed up as two series, covering the periods 1710–62 and 1763–74. The abstracts for each series were each arranged in alphabetical order of the apprentice's name. A few indentures for 1761 and 1762 were indexed into the second (post–1762) series – probably because of late payment of tax. Certain record societies have published the early entries for their own counties1.