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Trade Apprentices


Craft Guilds -
The primary purpose of the craft guild was to establish a complete system of industrial control over all who were associated together in the pursuit of a common calling. The merchant guild, working usually in the smaller towns, organized a whole industry; the craft guilds, springing up everywhere, from London to almost every Hamlet, organised each separate part of every Industry, or vocation, as an independent entity. For example, where the merchant guild had organised the Leather business as a whole, craft guilds broke it up into specialties, so that Tanners, Saddle makers, Harness makers, Bridle makers, Shoe makers, Slipper makers, Boot makers, etc., had each their own fraternity. This high degree of specialisation was extended to the Arts, to Social interests, Amusements and Education; it was even extended to Religion, so that in one Church might be a guild of Priests, of Musicians, of Singers, of Actors in the mystery play, and a guild to look after the Altar besides to see that it was properly dressed with rich cloths and its candles always burning.


The time of his Indenture completed, the Apprentice graduated into the ranks of the Journeymen, becoming thereby a Fellow of the Craft, i.e., entitled to its liberties and privileges on equal terms with all others. This passing to a higher grade was signalized by some proof of his skill a "masterpiece" in many cases or an examination before the Wardens. (Wardens were known as "Deacons" in Scotland)  A Journeyman (sometimes called Yoeman for "young man") hired himself out to some Master for 2 or 3 years at wages and then, with a little money of his own, set up in his own shop, hired Journeymen, Indentured Apprentices and became a Master.


The Aberdeen Burgh Registers of Apprentices survive from 1622 to 1878.  They are not a comprehensive list, and show those who were apprenticed to Burgesses in the Burgh.
Register of Indentures Volume 1, Jan 1797 - April 1798
Register of Indentures Volume 2, May 1798 - Dec 1826
Register of Indentures Volume 3, Jan 1827 - June 1878

These indexes cover from 1797 to 1878, and are intended as a guide.  The 1st 2 sets include the date, name of apprentice, name of who he was apprenticed to, the Trade and the Cautioners (those who were intended as Guarantors should the Apprentice fail to keep up the terms of his Indenture).  The 3rd shows the date, the name of the Apprentice, and the Trade. 

Each index shows the page number of the original volume, in which further information may be found.  The volumes are held in the Town House office

Apprentice Indentures
An Apprenticeship Indenture was a legal document whereby a master, in exchange for a sum of money (the 'premium' or dues), 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 1 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 1 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, plus1 shilling (5p) for every £1 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 Woollen Industry.  The Apprentice Tax paid was recorded in Books, or Registers. These are divided into 'town' and country but the town volumes include Indentures from outside.

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 100 pounds (multiply by 100 to get an idea of the amount in today's terms): for example,

Date & Name                 Apprenticed to                                     Trade
12th July 1819    David ROBERTSON Appr to Alex Sutherland     SHOEMAKER
Cautioner : James Cooper
NB (“the said David Robertson having previously served James Matthews, Shoemaker from 19th July 1813”)

Most sums are rounded to the shilling or sixpence; however, there are some very odd values (particularly with Scottish Indentures): amounts as £30 6s 8d are unsurprising, since 6/8 is 1/3 of a pound, we have sums like £36-18s 5¼d and £30-18s 6-2/3d. 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.

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 or other large commercial centre, but no trace can be found of his origins.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013