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Monday, 10 October 2011

Parish Apprentices’ Stories

For hundreds of years, orphans and poor children whose parents could not afford to feed them were cared for by the parish. They faced an uncertain future.

Parish overseers saved ratepayers’ money by apprenticing children into trades. This saved these children’s upkeep, and in theory, the children could earn a wage when grown up. In practice, the ‘skills’ they learnt were often useless for earning a living after they had served their time.
In general, children were apprenticed from around age ten, although there were reports of younger children being ‘bound’. Boys could be apprenticed until they were twenty-four (twenty-one after 1767); girls were apprenticed until they were twenty-one, or until they got married.
Parish overseers did not need parents’ consent for these apprenticeships. Children apprenticed far away from their home parish, for example, like those sent into the early textile mills, might not see their parents for many years. Families who objected had their parish relief stopped.
Children were apprenticed into many different trades: textiles, coal mining, farm labour, domestic service, the navy, etc. Some masters and mistresses treated the children well. Others treated them very cruelly, even ‘respectable’ members of society such as Mr and Mrs Sloane, who were prosecuted for their horrific treatment of parish apprentice Jane Wilbred.
You can find out more about the lives of parish apprentices and the stories of children and teenagers such as Jane Wilbred, Anne Naylor and Mary Anne Parson in The Children History Forgot. And my feature for this month’s Your Family History magazine has tips on how to use apprenticeship records to research your ancestors.

Images: The Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal. The Styal mill children were parish apprentices. They were treated more humanely at Styal than at many other cotton factories © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Police try to hold back an angry mob in Giltspur St, London, as George Sloane (accused of ‘frightful cruelty’ against his servant Jane Wilbred), is taken to appear before the magistrates. Illustrated London News, 4 January 1851. Author’s collection

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