Britain, Country Apprentices 1710-1808

What was your family trade? Discover your ancestor in the registers from the Board of Stamps. The registers recorded the tax paid for each indenture for an apprentice. The average apprenticeship was seven years. That is seven years of family history you can reveal through these records, as well as your ancestor’s parent’s name, his/her master and the profession they chose. The registers record apprenticeships from the whole of Great Britain.

What can these records tell me?

Each record includes a transcript created by the Society of Genealogists from the original registers found at The National Archives. The amount of information in each record can vary depending for a number of reasons. Each will include a combination of the following:

  • Name
  • Role (either master or apprentice)
  • Indenture year
  • Premium – amount paid to the master
  • Place
  • County
  • Apprentice’s name
  • Apprentice’s place and county
  • Master’s name
  • Master’s place and county
  • Master’s occupation
  • Master’s status
  • Apprentice’s parent’s name – most records do not include the parent’s name after 1752
  • Apprentice’s parent’s occupation
  • Apprentice’s parent’s status
  • The National Archive reference – these records are from the IR 1 series therefore, when using the reference add IR 1/ to the beginning of the reference number found in the record.
  • Society of Genealogists (SoG) number, page and volume

Discover more about these records

These records are of exceptional value to the family history researcher. They cover a span of nearly 100 years. The records were created from the original registers kept by the Board of Stamps of the money received in payment of the tax on apprentices' indentures. They contain the name of the apprentice and until the year 1752 the names of the apprentices' parents are given (usually the father, though sometimes the mother, if the father was dead), but after that year very rarely. They also included the place the apprentice came from, his father's trade, the name of the master to whom he was indentured, the master's trade, the place where the master lived, and the value of the premium paid to the master for taking on the apprentice. About 350,000 indentures are included, from all over Great Britain (about 20% are Scottish).

It shows the children of tradesmen, skilled artisans, yeomen farmers and even minor gentry learning occupations other than those of their fathers. A young artisan may pop up in a marriage register in the City of London or other large commercial centre, but no trace can be found of his origins. This series may help solve that problem or lead you to a local, official enrolment of the indenture.

The volumes consist of:

  • City or Town Registers, October 1711 to January 1811, with daily entries of the indentures upon which duty was paid in London
  • Country Registers, May 1710 to September 1808 with entries, made in London, of the indentures upon which duty had been paid to district collectors and which were afterwards sent up by them in batches to be stamped
  • Ledger of Duties Paid on Indentures, 1799 to 1802


An apprenticeship was a system where an artisan or craftsman took on a young apprentice to teach him/her skills of their profession. In Great Britain, the Statute of Apprentices of 1563 (sometimes called the Statute of Artificers) stated that no one could set up a trade without completing an apprenticeship. An apprentice was placed with or bound to a master for at least seven years. This was the law until 1814.

The 1563 Act also determined that apprentices were bound until they were 24, but this was later reduced to 21 in 1768. The Justice of the Peace was the only person who could break the bond. Not all apprentices completed their term. Some apprentices ran away because of mistreatment or in other cases the master could have become ill, bankrupt or even died. For others, early departure was agreed to in advance. Apprenticeships did not run ‘by the book.’ In 1601, the Overseers of the Poor were given the ability to bind pauper children to a master; anyone under the age of 21 refusing to be an apprentice was to be imprisoned until they found a master. By the 18th century, apprenticeships were a part of every level of society from the children of the poor to young gentry.

The life of an apprentice was completely dependent on the master. Apprentices relied on their masters for food, shelter and clothing. During their years of training, they were not allowed to marry, gamble or visit public houses. However, what they were to be taught was not specified. Some masters spent very little time with their young apprentices and only gave them menial tasks to complete, instead of developing their skills. In 1802, the law attempted to improve the lives of apprentices through the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. The Act included 12-hour workdays and the requirement that apprentices were taught arithmetic, writing and reading.

The indenture was an agreement between a master and the guardian of the apprentice. In most cases, it was a written contract. Depending on the trade, some apprentices (or rather their family) had to pay the master to take on the apprentice and this was known as a premium. The amount paid to the master varied enormously, and it is far from clear what criteria applied. The premiums are usually a few pounds or tens of pounds, but can be several hundred pounds (multiply by 100 to get an idea of the amount in today's terms). For example, John Abercromby was apprenticed in 1768 to "Jane & Peter & Dan & John Berthomas" of Gracechurch, London, merchants, for a premium of £500. This is possibly the highest recorded in these records. Although most sums are rounded to the shilling or sixpence, there are some very odd values, particularly with Scottish indentures; amounts such as £30-6/8 are unsurprising, since 6/8 is 1/3 of a pound, but there are also sums like £36-18/5¼, and £30-18/6 2/3. While the amount 2/2 2/3 is perhaps explicable – it is 1/9 of a pound - and maybe 11/1 1/3 (5/9ths), the others are more difficult to understand.


In 1709, The Stamp Act put a tax on the indenture and this practice lasted until 1808. Through this practice, apprenticeships became more centrally recorded and accounted. An apprenticeship indenture was a legal document whereby a master, in exchange for a sum of money (the "premium"), agreed to instruct the apprentice in his or her trade for a set term of years. The provision of food, clothing and lodging was generally part of the agreement. Exempt from the law were those where the fee was less than one shilling or those arranged by parish or public charities. This means that very many apprentices' articles were never subject to the tax and are therefore not recorded in these registers. In such cases, local or charity records, if they survive, are likely to be the only source of information.

Trades which had not existed in 1563, when the Statute of Apprentices became law, were also not liable to the tax. The most notable example of this was the cotton industry. A later Act made the tax permanent, but it was abolished in 1804. The last tardy payments continued to trickle in until January 1811.

The tax, paid by the master not more than one year after the end of the apprenticeship, was at the rate of 6d (2½ pence in today's terms) on the pound on agreements of £50 or less, plus one shilling (5p) for every pound above that sum. The payment of tax was to be entered on the reverse of the indenture, which was void without this payment. However, evasion was common in certain areas such as the Yorkshire woollen industry. The Apprentice Tax paid was recorded in books, or registers. These are divided into "town" (ie London) and country but the town volumes include indentures from outside London.