Before the mid-twentieth century an apprenticeship (usually lasting seven years) was the usual, and often the only way, for a tradesman to train for his occupation. There is no comprehensive central register of apprenticeship, although the The National Archives has, amongst the records of the Inland Revenue, (because of the stamp duty levied on apprenticeship indenture) a series of 79 apprenticeship books between 1710 and 1811 which list the names, addresses and trades of the masters and the names of the apprentices and the dates of their articles (National Archives reference IR 1). The only local information about apprentices comes from two sources, the borough registers of freemen and the parish records.

Under the Poor Law Act of 1601, the parish could pay to have orphans and the children of parents on poor relief apprenticed. This, however, was often no more than a means of disposing of the children cheaply, and they were not apprenticed to learn a trade but merely to become household and farm servants. Copies of apprenticeship agreements, known as 'indentures', can be found in parish and township poor law records.

In some industrial areas, pauper children were 'apprenticed' to factory-owners. Doncaster was a predominantly rural area until the mid-nineteenth century, with few factories. However, the only surviving overseers account book for the township of Doncaster (for 1794-1795) records that children from Doncaster were being sent to the cotton mill of Davison and Hawksley at Arnold, near Nottingham. Follow up the story of this firm and its apprentices in Stanley D. Chapman, The Early Factory Masters, (David and Charles, 1967), pages 181 to 199, available from Doncaster Libraries.

The Doncaster borough records contain information about apprentices who were admitted freemen of the borough after serving an apprenticeship with a master who was also a freeman.


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