The apprenticeship system developed during the Middle Ages. A master craftsman would employ young people as inexpensive labour in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training. Most apprentices were males, but female apprentices were found in crafts such as seamstress, tailor, cordwainer, baker and stationer. Most apprentices aspired to becoming master craftsmen themselves on completion of their contract (usually a term of seven years), but some would spend time as a journeyman and a significant proportion would never acquire their own workshop.
The parents or guardians of a minor would agree with a Guild's Master craftsman the conditions for an apprenticeship which would bind the minor for (usually) 7 years (e.g. from age 14 to 21). The parent would pay a premium to the craftsman and the contract would be recorded in an indenture. In 1563, the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices was passed to regulate and protect the apprenticeship system, forbidding anyone from practising a trade or craft without first serving a 7-year period as an apprentice to a master (though in practice Freemen's sons could negotiate shorter terms).
From 1601, 'parish' apprenticeships under the Elizabethan Poor Law came to be used as a way of providing for poor, illegitimate and orphaned children of both sexes alongside the regular system of skilled apprenticeships, which tended to provide for boys from slightly more affluent backgrounds. These parish apprenticeships, which could be created with the assent of two Justices of the Peace, generally, but not always, supplied apprentices for lower status occupations such as farm labouring, brickmaking and menial household service. There are examples of both types in the table.
In the early years of the Industrial Revolution factory owners opposed the restrictions brought about by the apprenticeship system, and a legal ruling established that the Statute of Apprentices did not apply to trades that were not in existence when the Statute was enacted in 1563, thus excluding many new 18th century industries. In 1814 compulsory apprenticeship by indenture was abolished.
The mediaeval Guilds survive as Livery Companies, of which108 are based in the City of London. Most Companies, particularly those formed in recent years, are primarily social and charitable organizations. The active livery companies play an important part in social life and networking in the City of London, and have a long history of cultural patronage, and control of the City Corporation.
These apprenticeships records survive because indentures were taxed by the levying of a Stamp Duty.
A Board of Stamps was created by the Stamps Act of 1694. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, stamp duties were extended to cover newspapers, pamphlets, lottery tickets, apprentices' indentures, advertisements, playing cards, dice, hats, gloves, patent medicines, perfumes, insurance policies, gold and silver plate, hair powder and armorial bearings (coats of arms).
The Board of Stamps Apprenticeship Books can be consulted at the National Archives at Kew.