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In 1563 The Statute of Apprentices was introduced which made it illegal for anyone who had not served an apprenticeship to enter a trade. However, there was no centralised record of apprentices kept in England and Wales until 1710, when in the reign of Queen Anne, stamp duty payments became payable on private indentures of apprenticeship, and records were kept of the duty paid for these apprenticeships.

Children who could not be cared for by their own family because they had no parents, or came from a poor family, were a problem to the poor law administrators, as they frequently lacked any means of support, and were too young to earn their own living. The Poor Law Act of 1597 gave Overseers of the Poor and Churchwardens the power to set these children to work, and so parish officers put out a large number of pauper children as apprentices, normally when aged between 7 and 10 years of age. Later, in the early 19th century, the minimum age became 9 years of age.

Whilst in earlier centuries, apprentices might be in trades such as butchery, tailoring, tanning, weaving or boot making, increasingly pauper children in rural parishes found themselves apprenticed instead to husbandry or housewifery on farms, or in private houses and shops, becoming in effect unpaid servants in the houses of their masters. When a parish wanted to bind a poor child, the parishioner they had chosen as master or mistress had to take the boy or girl, or pay a fine. Apprenticeship was sometimes organised by rotation, or drawn for, as in a raffle. Relatives sometimes took an orphaned or illegitimate child or a poor member of their family as apprentice. The parish paid the apprenticeship fee, and produced two copies of the indenture, one kept in the parish chest, and the other by the master until the apprenticeship ended, when it went to the apprentice.

In effect, an apprentice became like a part of the master's family. If a master owned or leased land in a parish and lived elsewhere, the apprentice had to live there too, if the master moved from parish to parish, the apprentice moved with him. If the master died, the apprentice could stay with his widow, or move to another master. The cancellation of Apprenticeships was normally by mutual agreement of the three parties involved, however in practice many apprentices simply did not stay, being disobedient or badly treated, they ran away. Although compulsory apprenticeship ended in 1844, the system of parish apprenticeship continued into the 20th century, despite the efforts of legislators to end it.


Susanna Milford daughter of Joan Milford, widow, to Thomas Comins of Witheridge, Woolcomber date 1750

John Morrish to Richard Ayre of Witheridge, yeoman, for East Backson, on a hearing date 1750

Elizabeth Wallen apprenticed to Richard Cooke of Witheridge for his estate in West Worlington date 1753

William Elworthy apprenticed to Mary Melhuish, spinster of Witheridge for Torvill date 1791

William Flew, aged 7, apprenticed to John Kent of Witheridge, for Sundays' Park. Date: 1804

Thomas Ellis, 7 apprenticed to William Comins of Witheridge, tradesman for Kelly estate date 1804

Thomas Greenslade, age 7 (son of Thomas and Grace, of Witheridge) apprenticed to John Venn, yeoman 9 Sep 1809

Sarah Hewood, age 12 (daughter of Philip and Mary, of Witheridge) apprenticed to John Phillips, yeoman 1 Feb 1812

Mary Williams, 11, apprenticed to Thomas Comins of Witheridge, gent. Date: 1817

John Flew, aged 9, apprenticed to John Kent jnr of Witheridge, yeoman, for Middle Mogford. Date: 1819

Ann Hill, age 12 (daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth, of Witheridge) apprenticed to Richard Kelland, yeoman, of Bow 26 Nov 1821

Apprenticeship indenture of Bertram Cox of Heifer Farm, Witheridge to Samuel Goodhind, butcher of Culmstock date: 1906

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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