England Apprenticeship Indentures 1710 to 1811

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In England, trades people, craftsmen and the like, generally learned their trades through serving an apprenticeship, usually for seven years, while in their teens. Upon completion of an apprenticeship, a man of full age could then become a "freeman" and a member of a guild, entitling him to privileges such as the right to vote in elections.

There were three main ways for a person to be apprenticed:

  1. To one’s own parent.
  2. As a pauper or orphan child apprenticed at the expense of his/her parish, or through a charitable fund.These were exempt from the tax.
  3. By his or her parents to a tradesperson for a fee.

In the last two cases, an “indenture of apprenticeship” was drawn up between the apprentice, or the parish overseers, and his/her master. An agreement of the last case could give the child’s name and the name, residence and occupation of his father. The terms of the agreement might state that the master would agree to teach, house, clothe and feed the apprentice for the term of the agreement, and in return he would receive a fee from the apprentice’s parents or the overseers and the apprentice would promise to work hard, to be obedient, to be on good behavior and to not leave the service of his master for the term of the agreement. A child could be apprenticed far from home, which could lead to homesickness and attempts by the apprentice to break his contract and return home. This was especially the case when a master was cruel and unfair.

Apprenticeship information can be found in parish records, city and borough records, freeman and guild records, court records and other sources, usually available at county record offices. However, it may be difficult to locate a specific apprenticeship, as there was no central registration for apprenticeships with one partial exception.

In 1709 the British government began taxing indentures of apprenticeship as a means of raising revenue to cover the expenses of war. This tax, collected by the Inland Revenue Service, lasted for 100 years. Apprenticeships financed by parish or charitable funds were exempt from the tax and there were likely other exemptions.The duty collected on each apprenticeship was recorded in a register book. These registers deal mostly with apprenticeships of the third type mentioned above.

The Family History Library has microfilmed copies of the Inland Revenue Service’s register books. These are divided into two parts: “town” records, for those taxes collected and paid in London, and the “country” records, for those taxes collected by the district collectors and sent to London for recording. The Library also has some indexes to the registers created by the Society of Genealogists. The Family History Library has a register for this collection found in the miscellaneous section of the register table (Reg. 942 U27a). The register books give little more information than what is included in the indexes. The important additional information is the number of years of the indenture and the amount of the duty collected.

To see an example of an Apprenticeship Indenture click here.

Inland Revenue Service register

The Family History Library’s collection of Inland Revenue Service register books, and indexes to them, includes:


Index to Apprentices in Series 1

Town books 1-23

Country books 41-54


This index is arranged in alphabetical order by the surname of the apprentice and is found on a series of nine FHL microfilms (477624-477632).


Index to Apprentices in Series 2

Town books 24-28

Country books 55-58


This index is arranged in the same manner and is on three FHL microfilms (477633-477635).


Index to Masters inSeries 1


This index is arranged in alphabetical order by the master’s name and includes a page reference which corresponds to the index to apprentices rather than the register books. On two FHL films (477636 and 477637).



Town Books 1-40


Arranged chronologically and by the name of the duty collector. These register books give little more information than what is included in the indexes. Found on 20 FHL microfilms (824662-824674 and 838740-838746).



Country books 41-73


Arranged the same as the town books. Found on 15 FHL microfilms (838764-838750, 841361, and 824675-824683).

Books number 41-51 contain indexes to collectors, and book 73 contains collector’s accounts.

To find actual apprenticeship papers and related records in the collection of the Family History Library, look in the Place Search of the catalog under:





Online Indexes

Indexes by the name of the apprentice, his master, the place involved, and by date, were made available for the whole collection, 1710-1811, on the subscription website Ancestry.com in August 2011.