Apprenticeship Indentures, England (1719, 1747, 1789)


Indenture Descriptions

November 5th, 1719 (Image #1)

Image 1: A poor child, Samuel Davis, is apprenticed to Matthew Knight on November 5th, 1719 in London until he is 24 years of age. Parish officers act on behalf of the child in his parent’s stead. The occupation of the master is unspecified.


April 3rd, 1747 (Image #2)

Image 2: In the contract, William Chesterton is being indentured to John Floyd of London, for a term of seven years. This contract was signed on April 3rd of 1747, the occupation of the master and apprentice are unspecified.

February 4th, 1789 (Image #3)

Image 3: Robert Farmer, an 8-year-old boy, is apprenticed to John Maund by his mother, Mary Farmer, as a chimney sweep for a term of 8 years. The contract was signed on February 4th, 1789 in Middlesex. The contract includes the equivalent of an18th-century standard “Terms and Conditions” agreement on the left side of the document written perpendicular to the main text.

History of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship was the most common means of training children in crafts and trades in 18th century England. The Statute of Apprentices of 1563 made apprenticeship required for anyone who wished to enter a trade professionally, meaning that no one could work as a master of the craft until they had served their full apprenticeship period. Typically this period was at least seven years long and children could begin their apprenticeship as early as the age of six. Anyone under the age of 21 who refused to be an apprentice might have been imprisoned until he or she found a master (Lane).

An apprenticeship indenture is a legal document that is drawn up by a professional clerk to bind a child to their master.  A master agreed to train the child in his profession in exchange for a fee. This required fee was uncommon until the 17th century and by the 18th century, there was an installment payment system for parents who could not afford a one-time full payment (Barber). Along with the agreement to teach the child, the master was also responsible for providing them with food, clothing, and lodging for the duration of the apprenticeship. An indenture sometimes needed the signature of a Justice of the Peace in order to become legally binding or to be legally broken (Burn 59-112).

Features of the Contracts

Indentures were most often printed or written on vellum, a type of parchment made from calf skin, or a similarly animal based parchment.  The contract was usually created with two copies, one of which was kept by the guardians of the apprentice, and the other was kept by the master. The irregular wavy edge on the top edge of most indentures was designed to act as proof that the two copies were one single legal agreement and therefore shared the same pattern. This edge on the document was called the “indented” margin which is where the name “indenture” comes from (Barber).

These documents begin with “This Indenture” in large capital letters that are often embellished with decorative flourishes or a copper engraved coat of arms also know as an Armorial heading, as seen in image 1 and image 2 above. Each copy of the indenture has the signatures of the parties at the bottom, or in the case of parties that cannot write, an indication of “X, His Mark” as seen in image 3 above (Barber).

The blue strip on the side of the indentures in image 2 and image 3 are embossed paper and foil Sixpenny Royal tax stamps or Shilling Sixpence tax stamps.The insert in the revenue stamps was either tin or sterling silver foil, depending on the era (Leaman). The imprint of the stamp in image 1 is visible through the back of the indenture where the blue stamps are on the other two contracts. 

On the bottom left-hand side of the indentures, there is often a seal in red wax. The seal would serve as further validation of the integrity of the contract. These seals were not always the crest of a person who is a direct party to the contract, as they sometimes belonged to a lawyer or a witness (Barber).


For more information and examples of apprenticeship indentures please visit the post created by our partners from the University of British Colombia at Joseph Thomas Clover’s apprenticeship contract, 1841 and Indenture of Apprenticeship Full Transcription


Daisy Rodriguez and Annie Woo

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