Coal hole plate made in Southwark

Lost Industries of Southwark Education Resources

Worksheet 9 - Using Document 8

Children's Work



Since the medieval period families with the means would pay for their sons to live with the family of a tradesman and be taught a trade. The child would usually have to do unpleasant and boring work, but a child who was apprenticed was at an advantage over one who wasn’t, as by the end of the generally seven year period he would be recognised as a skilled worker. The agreement between the child’s family and the Master was called an ‘indenture’, and was legally binding. Apprenticeship traditionally gave the trained young man status as after ‘passing out’ he could join the Guild or Company that was made up of all the other people who had been apprenticed in the same trade. In the City of London you were only able to work in certain trades if you had served your time as an apprentice.

Trade Indentures

By the 18th century the system had been changing and breaking down for some time, and it often no longer conferred the status which it once had. Indentured labour was a system whereby a working person could sell himself into a term of labour, usually seven years. The work was very hard but some people were so poor they had no choice. With the development of workhouse indentures, apprenticeship lost further prestige. The Workhouse Trade Indenture system, was a cross between apprenticeship and slavery. The better off people in a neighbourhood were required to pay a Poor Rate, which was used to help the poor. It was thought that an apprenticeship system should be set up to train the children of paupers who lived in the workhouse, thus decreasing the Poor Rate. The workhouse would also gain money, as a Master would have to pay a fee. Children were ‘indentured’ to tradesmen (and sometimes women) often in a nearby Parish but increasingly in the first third of the 19th century to Masters far away. Some of the indenture records of the parish of St. George the Martyr in Southwark record local children being sent as far as Lancashire, to work in the cotton mills. The child’s family would have been given no choice of area, and it must be assumed that those sent very far away were unlikely to be able to visit their parents. Whilst traditional, higher-status apprenticeship was almost exclusively for boys, pauper apprenticeship schemes also included girls.

Look at Document 8 and answer these questions:

1.Choose a child and find out about the trade he or she was indentured into. Look up any words you are not familiar with.

2.Write a diary entry about your child’s first day with their new Master or Mistress, using the information given and your imagination.

3.At what age do they end their indenture and become ‘free’?


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