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The Apprenticeship Series

The new British Record Society Apprenticeship series will make available indices, calendars and analyses of nationally significant record collections relating to apprentices, their training and careers.

The first two volumes publish a calendar and index of the civil cases presented to the Lord Mayor’s Court of London brought by apprentices against their masters for the early termination of their apprenticeship indentures. Notwithstanding two major fires – the Great Fire of 1666 and the Royal Exchange fire of 1838 – the court archive contains over sixteen thousand cases. Details of all of these cases have been extracted for the present volumes. Collectively, they provide a unique resource of information about the background, circumstances and training of apprentices subsequent to their being bound to their masters.

Although the court dealt with cases brought by apprentices bound under the auspices of the London livery companies or by mariners’ apprentices bound near London, these records have a national scope. Most apprentices bringing cases before the court had been brought up in other parts of the British Isles or further afield and came to London, a place that had become a magnet for families seeking training for their children. Most apprentices were bound in their mid-teens for a minimum of seven years, often with a master with whom they had no familial connection. For this arrangement to work, there had to be in place effective mechanisms for dealing with breakdowns in the apprentice-master relationship and dissolving the legally binding indenture. The introduction examines the circumstances of these breakdowns, the variety of resources and legal options available to apprentices, as well as providing the first modern treatment of the legal practice of the Lord Mayor’s Court. Further analysis of the records includes the relationship between the livery companies and their nominal trades over the seventeenth century, the status of female apprentices, and the circumstances under which apprentices were led to take legal action.

Supplementary sections provide a transcription of the surviving attorney case files dealing with apprentices and a sample of equity cases between masters and apprentices. The names, places, London signs and the wealth of information on trades are all inexed.

Future volumes in the apprenticeship series may encompass membership records, legal proceedings or cognate documents. The series will focus on records from the early modern period. Planned forthcoming volumes include an index and analysis of the membership records of the Merchant Taylors’ Company.