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Although a number of leading entrepreneurs apprenticed their sons in the ranks below them, they often searched out successful masters in the more lucrative manufacturing industries, such as whitawers, goldsmiths, and brewers, for this purpose (Table 15). Access to the upper reaches of the social hierarchy was largely closed to men in lesser trades and crafts. In terms of social mobility, the civic elite lived very much in a world unto itself. Just as with other trades, throughout our period elite fathers showed a strong tendency to apprentice their sons in their own sector of the economy and to draw their apprentices from the same circles. In each period, slightly over 50 percent of the sons of Bristol’s leading entrepreneurs who were apprenticed within the city were placed with masters in this same group of trades. Between the early sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, there was a 10 percent increase, from 48 to 58 percent, in the number of Bristol-born apprentices entering these trades whose fathers were leading entrepreneurs. The distribution of other occupations represented among the Bristolians apprenticed in this category also changed. Between 1532 and 1542, only twelve of the Bristol-born apprentices who became indentured to merchants, major retailers, or soapmakers came from families in the city’s large-scale industries, such as brewing and whitawing. The fathers of twenty-one others came from among the minor crafts, such as shoemaking. A similar pattern appears in the distribution of occupations filled by the sons of the city’s leading entrepreneurs from 1532 to 1542. Merchants and other major entrepreneurs placed twenty-nine of their sons as apprentices in manufacturing trades, but only ten of them joined in the more important crafts such as brewing and whitawing. In other words, in the early sixteenth century Bristol’s leading entrepreneurs drew their apprentices from a relatively wide range of family backgrounds and placed their own sons in a relatively wide range of occupations. Between 1626 and 1636, however, both distributions were much narrower. In this period, the sixty-three Bristolians who moved from outside the city’s economic leadership to apprenticeships within it came from families of generally high social standing. Ten were sons of gentlemen, two of parish clergy, and one of a physician. At the same time, the noncommercial occupations to which the sons of major entrepreneurs were apprenticed show a similar change. Fewer of them entered the lesser trades and more went into crafts that enjoyed national markets for their wares. The evidence indicates that the upper echelons of Bristol’s social hierarchy were more homogeneous in family background in Charles I’s reign than had been the case in Henry VIII’s and that by the 1630s the cream of the apprenticeships in Bristol was being skimmed by the sons of the city’s leading entrepreneurs.[69]

15. Bristolians in Major Commercial and Entrepreneurial
Occupations, 1532-1542 and 1626-1636
  1532–1542 1626–1636
  Sons[a] Fathers[b] Sons[a] Fathers[b]
  No. % No. % No. % No. %
Source: 1532–1542: D. Hollis, ed., Calendar of the Bristol Apprentice Book, 1532–1565. Part 1: 1532–1542 (Bristol Record Society 14, 1949). 1626–1636: Bristol Record Office, Apprentice Book, 1626–1640, ff. 1r–333r.
Leading entrepreneurs
  Merchants 17 28.81 16 25.40 34 25.40 25 16.89
  Major retailers 11 18.64 14 22.22 30 18.52 38 25.68
  Soapmakers, chandlers 2 3.39     21 12.96 22 13.10
    Total 30 50.84 30 47.62 85 52.47 85 57.43
Textile industries[c] 11 18.64 10 15.87 19 11.73 11 7.43
Leather industries[c] 7 11.86 9 14.29 18 11.11 3 2.03
Metal industries 2 3.39 1 1.59 9 5.56 4 2.70
Building trades     2 3.17 2 1.23 4 2.70
Shipping and related trading and port activities 2 3.39 6 9.52 16 9.88 18 12.16
Woodworking 1 1.69     1 0.62    
Food production 4 6.78 3 4.76 8 4.94 9 6.08
Professional and service trades 1 1.69 1 1.59 4 2.47 1 0.68
Gentlemen, esquires             10 6.76
Miscellaneous 1 1.69 1 1.59     3 2.03
    Total known 59   63   162   148  
    Total unknown     5       9  
      Total 59   68   162   157  

Over a long period these patterns of apprenticeship were bound to create networks of kinship among the active masters in every sector of the economy, as ties between father and son and brother and brother ramified throughout each trade or craft. But even in the short term, the high number of sons apprenticed to their father’s fellows in one branch or another of commerce or industry suggests the existence of very intimate social bonds within each group of masters. Where the forming of an apprenticeship tie did not reflect already well-established connections of blood and business, new ones were bound to come into being by the very placing of a son under the tutelage of a fellow Bristolian. In other words, the framework within which most Bristolians carried on their social and economic affairs had a distinctly occupational character, in the sense that trade or craft determined many other social ties. This was as true for the Merchant Venturers, whose membership we know accurately only from 1605, as for any of the other identifiable groups in the mercantile community. In these circles it was fairly common for sons to leave trade for one of the professions or to live on income from land their fathers had acquired. Judging by evidence derived from the Bristol burgess records, which enroll the names of men claiming the freedom of the city, those who followed their fathers into trade usually were apprenticed to other Merchant Venturers; often they married into Merchant Venturer families as well.[70]


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