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THE POOR APPRENTICE

At Harrogate from the Days of Queen Anne

Queen Elizabeth's excellent and comprehensive plan for the care of the poor, the Act of 1601, had laid on Churchwardens and Overseers the duty of seeing that poor boys and girls were taught a trade. These were, therefore, apprenticed to some craftsman, and an Indenture was drawn up, the contract between Master and Apprentice defining their respective obligations. In the oldest Harrogate indentures - the earliest is dated 1713, in the reign of Queen Anne - it was the apprentice who signed, though it might be thought that the signature of a minor was of questionable value. Later, and certainly always after the Apprentices Act of 1792, the document was signed by the father or the township officers. There are very many of these indentures in Ole township records: examples are to be found in each of the seven reigns from Anne's to Victoria's.

It was the Overseers, rather than the Churchwardens, who saw to this business of apprenticeship, for whether it was done or not affected the rates. Their natural instinct was to get the child off their hands at the earliest possible age and, preferably, to apprentice it to some Master in another township. This would give the child a "settlement" there. The original township would not be called on to support it if it should become destitute later in life. A Master, therefore, who took an apprentice from another township was thereby conferring a double benefit, and it is not surprising that the few fees ever paid to Masters by Harrogate went, almost invariably, outside the township.

By the later 1820's the Harrogate Overseers had adopted an ingenious Scheme that made it more profitable still to keep their apprentices in the township. This was, by the way, to work out to the advantage of the pauper children, for in the first stages of the Industrial Revolution when the demand for cheap labour was very great none of the local children were drafted to the factories. But previously, in the eighteenth century, quite a number were apprenticed elsewhere. In 1713 and 1718, two girls, both of eight years of age, were sent to "Bishop Mountaine" (Bishop Monkton) "in the Liberty of Ripon": they were to serve until 21 - almost invariably the age at which apprenticeship ended, irrespective of when it had begun.

Throughout the century - in fact, till about 1830 - there was a flourishing linen industry in the neighbourhood. In 1718 a boy was apprenticed to a weaver of Spofforth, who was to teach him the "Trade Mistery or Occupation of a linnen Weaver." This Master was exceptionally generous: the lad was to have, during the whole of his apprenticeship, "for his Wages Two shillings and sixpence a year." In 1738, another boy went to learn the "art and trade of a Linnen Weaver" from a craftsman in " Dacre pasture." In 1744, a tailor of Huby received the curious sum of 3 6s. 6d. for engaging to teach the "trade of a taler" which he was said to "follow"; in return, he would give the apprentice "Sixpence every year." In this case, most exceptionally, the apprenticeship was to end at 20. No doubt these boys would become skilled craftsmen. But sometimes, particularly with girls, the apprenticeship was merely nominal, and the Master got an unskilled worker or household drudge without paying a wage. Some of the indentures do not even indicate the trade to be taught. There was one Master, however, who obviously took a more enlightened view than usual of the skill involved in housework: he engaged to "instruct and teach" a girl, apprenticed at the early age of 7, "in the edication of good huswiferie."

The oldest indentures are quite imposing documents. They are signed and sealed (sometimes with large red seals), and counter-signed - to make them valid - by two Justices of the Peace, one of whom had to be " of the Quorum." The phrasing of the indentures resembles the language of Shakespeare and of the Bible. In that of a boy, James Blackestone, to Robert Dearlove of "Ribstone loogs" in 1737, the apprentice engages that he "his said Master well and truly shall serve, his Secrets shall keep, his Commands (being lawful and honest) at all times willingly shall perform, and in all Things as a good and faithful Servant shall demean himself towards his said Master and all his Family." The Secrets were, presumably, trade secrets, and the mention of the family was no doubt necessary because the apprentice lived in.

The Master, on his part, "doth Covenant, promise and agree that he will educate and bring him up in some honest and lawful Calling, and in the Fear of God; and that he will find, provide for and allow unto his said Apprentice sufficient, wholesome and competent Meat, Drink, Washing, Lodging, Apparel, and other Necessaries meet for such an Apprentice during all the said term; and at the end of the said Term shall find, provide for, and deliver unto his said Apprentice double Apparel of all sorts; (that is to say) one good and new Suit for the Lord's Days, and another for the Working Days, of Linnen, Woollen, Hose, Shoes, and all other Necessaries meet for such an Apprentice to have and wear." To this is added, in writing, as if it were not then always taken for granted, "Also the said Robert Dearlove is to teach or cause to be taught, to his said Apprentice, to read in the English Bible."

Before the Apprentices Act of 1792 limited the duties of both Master and Apprentice and made indentures simpler, the paragraph defining the Apprentice's obligations had become such as the following (an example from 1785):

"hurt or Damage to his said Master (he) shall not do, or Consent to be done, but to his Power shall let (that is, prevent) it, and forthwith his said Master thereof warn; Taverns or Ale-Houses shall not Haunt or Frequent, unless it be about his Master's Business there to be done. At Dice, Cards, Tables, Bowls, or any other unlawful Games shall not play: The Goods of his said Master shall not Waste, nor them Lend, or give to any Person without his Master's Licence: Matrimony within the said Term shall not contract, nor from his Master's Service at any Time absent himself, but as a True and Faithful Apprentice shall order and behave himself towards his said Master and all, as well in Words as in Deeds during the said Term: And a true and just Account of all his said Master's Goods, Chattels, and Money committed to his charge, or which shall come to his hands, faithfully shall give at all Times when thereunto required, by his said Master's Executors, Administrators, or Assigns."

These Executors were legally bound at first to see the apprenticeship completed: after 1792, their obligations to the Apprentice ended three months after the Master's death. On the other hand, a regulation of 1816 was clearly intended to protect Apprentices. This said that an indenture must be signed first by the Justices, who could therefore veto any undesirable arrangement. After this we find many Justices' Orders for Indentures, completed before the indentures proper were drawn up. The law also insisted on the keeping of a "Register of Apprentices"; but the Vestry Clerk at Harrogate performed this duty very imperfectly.

The Overseers saw to the apprenticing, not only of the children in the Workhouse, but of all poor boys and girls in the township, but they did. it rather spasmodically. In the 1790's there appear to have been only one or two apprentices each year, but in 1801 there were eight boys and fourteen girls. This apparent accumulation from previous years - and the same thing was to happen later - suggests that the Overseers, as individuals, did not relish this part of their duties, and preferred, whenever possible, to leave it for their successors in office.

Until about 1830, however, most of the boys were put to, a good trade. Among the Masters were joiners, cabinet-makers, tailors, shoemakers, cordwainers, smiths, wheelwrights, coach-makers, masons, builders, butchers, bakers, bleachers, tinners, and, of course, farmers. But some of the boys can hardly have been trained in the craft of their Master: the Rev Robert Mitton, of St. John's Chapel, had an apprentice. There was a girl apprenticed to a milliner; but the great majority of the girls became household servants. They went to gentlemen, to doctors and other professional men, and many to the inns: the Dragon, Queen, Granby, Black Swan and Gascoigne's, in High Harrogate, and the Swan, in Low Harrogate. Possibly they became sufficiently skilled to command a good wage. Soon after Henry Peacock became Workhouse Master and Vestry Clerk in 1825, the Overseers began to insist that it was the obligation of certain rate-payers to take a poor apprentice. They themselves decided, with the occasional backing of the Vestry Meeting, which rate-payers were liable. If anyone refused, a fine of 10 was demanded - and actually paid. This money was not given, as one might expect, to the Master who eventually took the apprentice: the Overseers made no grant except of certain lesser sums - 5 is the maximum recorded, to Masters resident in other townships. The fines went to the reduction of the rates. This was by no means an insignificant contribution: in 1830, it was 240; in 1838, 110; in 1839, 150.

In at least one case, however, the Overseers' victim - a Miss Turnbull - was protected by the Magistrates, who declared the demand to be "an injustice." In a number of instances, the Overseers themselves seem to have had an uneasy conscience, for they were generous in allowing time to pay. The victims, however; were to devise an effective answer: they persuaded the Overseers to give a very wide definition to the term "poor apprentice." In 1830, Nicholas Carter, already a man of standing, described as a "Cabinetmaker and Tavern-Keeper" (at what is now the Prospect) was allowed to count his own son's apprenticeship to himself as relieving him of liability. In 1834, he again escaped the penalty by taking his daughter also as apprentice. The fact that she was five months under the then legal age of nine gives added point to the evasion.

The keepers of inns or of the then fashionable "Lodging Houses," farmers and. butchers seem never to have hesitated to take apprentices. They welcomed this provision of cheap labour. But already in 1830 we find Richard Ellis, blacksmith, and Joseph Homer, joiner, preferring to pay the 10 fine rather than take such children as were then available. In the same year Dr Shillito and no fewer than eleven "gentlemen" did the same. In 1831, the Rev. Henry Mitton did take a girl apprentice but soon after sent her back to the Overseers, saying that he would rather pay the fine than have such another. Two other clergymen paid the fine at once, without risking an experiment: the Rev Thomas Kennion, then in charge of St. John's, and the Rev. Andrew Cheap, who, as Vicar of Knaresborough, held a good deal of property in Harrogate. The more astute Joseph Thackwray, who lived in Pannal township, at the Crown, successfully appealed on the ground that he was not a householder, though he paid considerable rates, on the "Montpellier Gardens" for example, in the township. John Coupland, chemist, was not so fortunate: in 1831, he was ordered to appear at the Court House at Knaresborough to "Shew cause why he should not have a pauper apprentice bound to him. "In 1843, Robert Briden was similarly summoned.

There was obvious discontent with the system, even though a Vestry Meeting in 1837 was induced to pass a resolution "That all Persons who have Occupied Premises for Four Seasons or Years are liable to take Parish Apprentices." Apart from the fact that the burden, which properly belonged to the township as a whole, was borne by the few, the grievance seems to have been the poor quality of -the apprentices. Possibly some of them were too old to be 'disciplined. In 1829, when 40 children (including 7 from the Workhouse) were apprenticed, their ages ranged from 9 to 16; later, there was actually a boy of 19. The Justices were usually ready to protect apprentices from a harsh Master, sometimes even going so far as to break the indenture, but there is plenty of evidence that the fault did not always lie with the Master. Of one boy, for example, discharged as a " Storyteller and Shuffler," it is said that "when he went on an Errand he could not find the way back, and was always wanting Money to go to the play with." Rather than try to find a new Master, he "engaged to be a Turnboy" (that is, a kitchen-boy in a tavern), because of the "Pockett money" this blind-alley occupation provided. The temptation to take this easy way might be particularly strong in Harrogate for those who had been brought up by public money. This may explain why the craftsmen chose to get their apprentices elsewhere, even at the sacrifice of 10. Barber John Dunn, also, who shaved the Workhouse inmates, preferred to pay the fine rather than, presumably, to risk his livelihood.

Though this ingenious method of reducing the Rates was a fairly widespread practice, partly forced on townships by the burden of Poor Relief, few places imposed so big a fine as Harrogate. In Knaresborough, at this time, there was a special Charity providing a 10 apprenticeship fee for a number of Masters every year. A knowledge of this may have enabled the Harrogate Overseers to fix the amount of the fine, yet strangely enough it did not also suggest to them that, having collected the 10 from a defaulter, they should give it to the Master. The best that can be said of the practice is that it worked out to the financial advantage of the rate-payers. But if the larger view be taken and the interests of the community considered it was admittedly a bad system. Many potential "poor apprentices," who might well have risen from the pauper ranks to become craftsmen, lost their opportunity because suitable Masters were offered no adequate fee for their training. These unfortunate boys and girls were condemned to join the pool of unskilled labour and their doing so would tend to reduce still further the wages of the lowest paid workers.

One must admire the astuteness of a Master, one John Ferrington, tailor, of Star Beck, who in 1843 drove a hard bargain with the Overseers. The boy he agreed to take was to have "meat and clothes," during the whole of his apprenticeship, from the township, and was to sleep in the Workhouse. . In addition, Ferrington was to have the "Tayloring Work of the Township." At least one "poor apprentice" was able to get his chance in life.
 

 

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