There were four ways that a boy or girl could be apprenticed:

Private Apprentices - arranged by the family to ensure that a child would have training and future employment. These may often be with relatives or with master craftsmen in the father's trade. Documents remained with the family of the apprentice, but a few have been deposited at Lincolnshire Archives. However, between 1710 and 1804 a tax was charged for apprenticeship and apprenticeships were recorded by the Inland Revenue. These are held at The National Archives (formerly Public Record Office) at Kew.

Freemen apprentices – where apprenticeship to a freeman of a city or borough conferred freedom on the apprentice on completion of his term, and where the apprenticeship was entered in the Freemen’s Registers.

Pauper apprentices - arranged by the parish officers for the children of paupers. The pauper kept one part of the indenture, the other remaining in the parish chest of the parish that apprenticed him. Many of these parish chest copies have survived and are at Lincolnshire Archives.

Charity apprentices - arranged by the parish officers or solicitors - usually as a result of someone leaving an annual sum in their will for apprenticing a certain number of poor children. Many of these indentures have been deposited at Lincolnshire Archives, particularly for the parish of Washingborough (Clarke’s Charity and Garrett’s Charity).

A large number of pauper children were put out as apprentices by parish officers. Many were orphans and very young. The apprentice, provided that he served for forty days and slept for the last forty days of his apprenticeship in his master's house, gained a settlement in the parish where his master lived. To all intents and purposes, the apprentice became a member of the master's family. If the master wanted to move to another parish, his apprentice was named on his settlement certificate. Likewise, if the master was removed back to his place of settlement, the apprentice followed. The apprentice lived with his master throughout his apprenticeship, and the master took on the role of surrogate father. If his master died, the apprentice could be re-assigned to another master by the parish officers.

The apprenticeship could be cancelled only by the mutual agreement of the apprentice, the master and the parish officers. If the apprentice had been badly mistreated, or the master became insolvent, and the case went to Quarter Sessions, the Justices of the Peace could then cancel the apprenticeship. Masters were chosen by the parish officers or by ballot. In some parishes the inhabitants simply took turns to take an apprentice. Masters could only refuse to take an apprentice on payment of a fine. The apprenticeship was paid for by the parish, unless the child's parent could afford to pay some of the fee, to which the parish would make up the difference. Two Indentures were made out on one piece of paper, one above the other, and signed by the overseer, churchwarden, the master and two Justices of the Peace. The paper was then cut in half in such a way that when the two papers were fitted together they matched perfectly, and a forged indenture could not be used at a later date. One copy of the indenture was kept in the parish chest, the other was taken by the master and presented to the apprentice at the end of his apprenticeship. The indentures always gave the names of the apprentice, the master and the parish to which the apprentice belonged. Other information which may be found includes the names of the apprentice's parents, his age, the parish of residence, the occupation of the master, and the trade or calling that the apprentice was to learn. The latter may differ from the stated trade of the master.

Some apprentices served masters who lived in the same parish as themselves, others were apprenticed outside the parish and thus gained a settlement elsewhere. Relatives were often named as the masters of pauper children. A second husband might take his wife's son by her first husband as an apprentice, thus ensuring that the whole family could claim the same place of legal settlement.

Until 1777/8 pauper apprentices served until they were 24 years of age, but after that date they served until they were 21 years of age.

In 1710 a stamp duty was imposed on apprenticeships and because of this the Inland Revenue were involved. Registers of apprentices were kept by the IR from 1710 to 1811 for the whole country. The originals are at the Public Record Office at Kew and there are copies of some of the registers, with indexes to apprentices and masters, at the Society of Genealogists.

As an example, here's a list of apprenticeships arranged by the overseers and churchwardens of various parishes:

  • Anne S apprenticed to John N & Abigail his wife to learn reading, sewing and housewifery, 1658 (with the consent of her [named] uncle)
  • Rachell B dau of William B apprenticed to John F shoemaker to learn housewifery and household affaires, 1695
  • Elizb L apprenticed to John G to learn Housewifery, 1698
  • Bernard P apprenticed to Abraham R of Derbyshire, chapman to be instructed in the art trade and mistery of a chapman of all sorts of glas, mugs, earthen ware & woden wares, 1714
  • Will. T apprenticed to Jno M to learn the art of a servant, 1732
  • Joseph B aged 10 apprenticed to John Y to learn husbandry, 1784
  • Mary M apprenticed to Susanna E of Spalding to learn the art of a mantua maker, 1799
  • Thomas W apprenticed to Samuel L to learn "the art of farm", 1725

After 1834 apprenticeships were arranged by the Guardians of the Poor Law Union, after careful enquiry as to who might take a boy or girl from the workhouse by the Guardians and Overseers of the individual parishes in the Union.

his example is from the Boston Union Workhouse Minutes [PL1/102/1 page 99] 11 March 1837. Ordered that the clerk do write to the overseers of Boston ordering them to apprentice Charles VICKARS to Robert STORR tailor, at a premium of £10, also to follow the recommendation of the workhouse committee in apprenticing Charles STEVENSON to Thomas STENNETT.

The Lincolnshire FHS has produced indexes to and abstractions of all the kinds of apprenticeship mentioned above, including the Inland Revenue registers and the Boston and Lincoln Freemen’s Registers. Full details of these may be found on the LFHS website at the Publications page