Michelle Dennis returns to her London ancestors, to show how she found out about their work from different sources…
Michelle Dennis looks at the alternatives to apprenticeship records that she found useful in her research.
Michelle is a family historian and freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She has been researching her family history for the past 30 years.
Formal apprenticeship indentures for our ancestors are not always easy to find, unless passed down through the family, and alternative documents are not always held in the places you may expect. A case in point involves my London ancestor, surgeon Samson Davis, and his gunmaker brother Joseph Davis.
Joseph (1807–1884) and Samson (1818–1860) were born in Aldgate, London to parents Samuel Samson Davis, a gunlock maker, and Betty Holbrook. Joseph married Eliza Hodges in 1831 at St Leonard, Foster Lane. They had six children together, and the baptismal abodes of his children were given as Great Prescott Street and Chamber Street. His Sun Fire Insurance policy - obtained from London Metropolitan Archives - confirms Joseph’s residence as being 62 Chamber Street, Goodman’s Fields, in 1835. Presumably Joseph learned his gunmaking trade from his father, possibly without any formal apprenticeship documentation being created. I therefore decided to look elsewhere to piece together his early training and career.
Firstly, I contacted the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers ( www.gunmakers. org.uk), in the hope of membership or apprenticeship records. Success! In the guild membership admission register, Joseph Davis appears as being admitted into the freedom of the company by redemption (payment) in 1845. But unfortunately, no formal apprenticeship indenture was recorded.
Despite not finding him in guild apprenticeship registers, there are two other important places to look that required their original document compilers to consult (and possibly copy) private apprenticeship indentures at the time. Firstly, court records were created to document the settling of apprentice/ master disputes and can be a real bonus if your ancestor does appear. They may list the apprentice and father or master’s name, trade and residence, term or length of indenture and other parties (such as the wife or business
partner of the master). They may discuss the conditions and responsibilities of the apprentice and master, and sometimes the failing of a condition may have provoked the apprentice ending up in court.
Also included may be the type of breach (marriage, absconding, misconduct or not completed the term of indenture) or that clothing or food was promised in the indenture, but not provided by the master. It will give the outcome of the court process, such as punishment or release, or signing over the apprentice to a new master. It may include a testimonial of character of the apprentice or master, and associated inquest papers if the apprentice or master died during the term.
Secondly, tax records such as the UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710–1811 can also give clues to our ancestors’ trade. Apprenticeship Duty Registers were compiled by tax officials to record the duty paid on premiums. They will include information such as who paid the duty, the masters full name, residence and trade, the apprentice full name, the payment date when the indenture was registered, the amount of duty paid, and sometimes the abode and occupations of fathers.
But neither Joseph or Samson appeared in court or tax records, so I had to look elsewhere. I found three other alternative sources to formal apprenticeship indentures. Firstly, I obtained an Apothecaries’ Hall document from the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries ( www.
apothecaries.org) about Samson Davis. This provided a wealth of information – his full name and trade; street address; details of his guardian (his father was deceased, so a brother was named); his master’s full name, address and occupation; his apprenticeship term (five years); his indenture date; a testimonial of moral character; his age and baptism date; details of his duties (such as attending University College Hospital lectures for 12 months, naming individual lectures and lecturers); the date of qualifying for Licentiate Society of Apothecaries; and records of admission into Freedom of the City of London. Minute books may include enrolment of indentures, misbehaving or absconding apprentices, and new masters.
I also found Joseph’s 1845 Freeman papers on Findmypast (as part of the City of London Gunmakers’ Company Freedoms and Admissions 1656–1936 records). These contained information including the apprentice’s full name, address, and trade; his father or guardian’s name, trade and full street address; the company name, admission date and place; the type of entry - redemption (payment), patrimony (inheritance), servitude (apprenticeship), or presentation (distinguished service to the company or city); the premium amount (although my ancestor’s father was a gunmaker in the Tower of London too, Joseph paid 46s 8d to become a freeman by redemption in 1845); and sworn statements by the applicant that he was over 21 and not an alien - including his signature and witnesses.
My third resource was the historic newspaper. Newspapers can contain accounts of court proceedings involving, for example, runaway apprentices; advertisements for new apprentices; adverts by a father or guardian seeking an apprenticeship for the child; inquests into the maltreatment of an apprentice leading to death; and local news articles that include mention of apprentices. I found a report about my ancestor, Joseph Davis, in an 1842 edition of the Morning Chronicle. He was complaining about the misconduct of his two apprentices. He stated, “they were negligent, devoted a great deal of their time to ‘spouting’ and talking of theatrical productions and rehearsing plays”. Joseph took them to court as they both appeared in a play without his permission. The judge reprimanded the theatre owner for letting apprentices appear in his production. His Worship directed that they be taken to the nearest barber shop and be “shorn of their flowing locks” as punishment for their behaviour. The youths had no objections.
Joseph Davis was admitted into the Gunmakers' Company in 1845
Joseph Davis was mentioned in a case reported in the Morning Chronicle in 1842