Much of the rest of this book will discuss how people got rich and spent and enjoyed their riches in Augustan London, but first the humbler beginnings of the careers of London businessmen will be considered. These started for the great majority with seven or eight years' apprenticeship, a period of 'genteel servitude' according to a contemporary writer.
This was an attractive institution for the masters since apprentices paid substantial premiums to enter into their servitude, while the free labour might make a net addition to the master's income even in the apprentice's first year and would almost certainly do so by the third or fourth year. The advantages to the apprentices were less obvious, especially for that majority who had no hope of ever becoming a master. Most trades certainly did not require seven years' training—many could be mastered in a few months according to critics—and the restrictions on the freedom of apprentices were irksome. On the other hand, apprenticeship was the commonest way to become a full member of a Livery Company and acquire the freedom of the City, a status which gave social prestige in itself and also provided rights of franchise, rights to office, rights to charitable maintenance in old age and, more significantly for business, various beneficial trading rights, the most important being the right to trade or open shop within the City.
The formal advantages of apprenticeship were to diminish over time as membership of Livery Companies became increasingly open to purchase and as the expansion of the metropolis led to more and more business being done outside the City. Such considerations caused apprenticeship to decline both absolutely and relatively in the eighteenth century, but this was a slow process and for the men considered in this book, most of whom were born between the 1630s and the 1670s,
seven years' 'genteel servitude' remained the commonest introduction to the world of business.
The Origins of London Apprentices
London was a city which relied for its continued growth on an annual stream of immigrants from the provinces and from overseas, and large numbers of these came to the metropolis in their teens to enter on formal indentures of apprenticeship. Such young men, and a few women, came from all over the country but there was a tendency over time for an increasing proportion to be drawn from south-eastern England as opportunities opened up elsewhere for young people to learn a trade or start up a business. Nearly two-thirds of our sample, for instance, came either from London itself or from the eastern and south-eastern counties. Despite this, there are representatives from almost every county and from Scotland, Wales and overseas. Opportunities in the provinces might be growing, but London remained the place where the really ambitious youth was likely to seek his fortune and for many trades it was virtually the only place where a satisfactory training could be obtained.
Historians have noted a marked rise over time in the social and economic status of the fathers of young men who took up London apprenticeships. In the sixteenth century, it was possible to find many fairly poor people, such as husbandmen, as the fathers of London apprentices. This became increasingly unusual and, by our period, most apprentices, or at least those likely to end up as independent businessmen, were the sons of yeomen or gentlemen if they were countrymen, while increasing numbers were the sons of urban professional or commercial people or of such 'middling' members of rural society as innkeepers, clothiers, millers and the like.
The most obvious reason for this change in social origins was the increasing cost of a London training. However, the development also reflects the changing attitude towards trade, which was considered in Chapter 1. This can be illustrated by the large number of apprentices whose fathers were described as gentleman, esquire or even knight in their indentures. Nearly a quarter of our sample were the sons of gentlemen and they were
trained for a wide variety of occupations. Ten became drapers or silkmen, eight merchants, six money-lenders or bankers, three tobacconists or tobacco factors, two each became apothecaries, grocers, haberdashers and cheesemongers, and one each was trained as an ironmonger, jeweller, leather-seller, tavernkeeper, silversmith, bookseller, salter, druggist and lookingglass manufacturer. The sons of gentlemen thus permeated the London business world fairly thoroughly, though they tended to be concentrated in such potentially profitable occupations as overseas trade, linen-draping and finance.
Just what it meant when a man described his father as a gentleman in a document is difficult to say, since the temptation to upgrade one's status when beginning a career in a strange town must have been considerable. Lawrence Stone has suggested that most of these fathers were really 'pseudo-gentlemen', that is, moderately respectable urban tradesmen, a hypothesis which leads him into some delightfully unacademic snobbery. 'They were men of limited means, were actively engaged in retail buying and selling, and probably did not own a single acre of agricultural land, certainly not a country house. They had no knowledge of Latin. They did not dream of swaggering around with a sword at their side, and they would have been completely at a loss if anyone had challenged them to a duel. By any sociological definition, they did not count as gentlemen, yet gentlemen is what they called themselves on public documents.
Stone's hypothesis is certainly refuted by those men in our sample who were described as sons of gentry. Only eight had fathers with the urban address which seems necessary of his pseudo-gentry, three in London and its suburbs and one each in Canterbury, Gloucester, Bath, Colchester and Norwich. The remaining thirty-nine had rural addresses, which were scattered much more widely across the country than was the overall distribution of apprentices' origins. Some may well have been sons of 'parish' gentry, rather than the more distinguished 'county' gentry, as Stone also suggests. However, the fact that twelve fathers were described as Esquire suggests that the gentleman label is not quite as trivial as Stone would have us believe. And indeed if none of these fathers were really gentlemen at all, it seems unlikely that there would have been so much contemporary comment on the subject as there was.
The seventeenth century was in fact rather a difficult time for the sons of gentlemen, especially the younger sons. It was then that the practice of primogeniture took a firmer grip in landed society, with the result that few younger sons could look forward to inheriting a landed estate to support them in the idleness to which their elder brothers were destined. There were also more younger sons than usual as a result of increasing total numbers of gentry and improving mortality chances for their children. What was to be done with them all? The obvious solution was either to educate them for the professions or apprentice them to trade.
The preferred solution in a status conscious society was probably to train them for the professions, though the opportunities for those born in the middle decades of the seventeenth century were fairly limited and some professions which would later absorb large numbers of younger sons, especially the army, had hardly been developed at all. Success in the learned professions also required academic abilities, which only a minority of gentlemen's sons were likely to have, a fact of life quite obvious to most parents. The Sussex gentleman, John French, declared in his early seventeenth-century will that if his younger sons were 'not capable of being scholars', they were to be sent to London to be apprenticed, and such an attitude was a common one. George Boddington showed no great signs of learning at grammar school and so was sent by his father to writing school and then put to learning business. Dudley North, destined to be a wealthy Levant merchant, one of the very few who ever learned Turkish and one of the most respected of early English writers on economics, was 'an indifferent scholar' and his 'backwardness at school and a sorry account that the master gave of his scholarship' led him into a merchant's apprenticeship, though his 'strange bent to traffic' which was demonstrated by successful trading with his schoolfellows was an important indication of his vocation.
Dudley North and his elder brother, the lawyer Lord Keeper Guilford, both claimed that they would never have pursued their careers if they had been assured of even quite a small private income: 'I have heard him say more than once that, if he had been sure of a hundred pounds a year to live on, he had never been a lawyer.' But their family 'was not in a posture to
sustain any of the brothers by estates to be carved out of the main sustentation of the honour', and such was the position of many another estate. Gentry estates were particularly hard hit after 1650 as a result of the accumulation of debts in the Civil War and its aftermath, high taxation and low agricultural prices, but the carelessness or irresponsible behaviour of gentlemen themselves was often the cause of their sons having to seek a career in trade. George Boddington's grandfather, for instance, 'waisted a good estate by gayming and was thereby constrayned to sell all he had to pay his debts'. All three of his sons were put out to apprenticeships in London.
This is not to suggest that only the stupid or the sons of the unlucky sought a career in trade. Such careers were increasingly attractive for their own sake, as the status of trade improved and the potential rewards escalated. There is also no reason to assume that the intellectual quality of London businessmen was below the norm of their day. They might not have been particularly good at Latin, but they seem to have had the ability to learn modern languages and to raise the general level of mathematical competence, while their correspondence suggests that they were quite capable of communicating adequately in their own tongue. This was a highly literate class who had spent several years at grammar school or at the new vocational schools which were discussed in Chapter 2. Such an education was often completed by a year or so at writing school in London before they entered into their apprenticeship, typically at the age of sixteen, though the starting ages of our sample ranged from a technically illegal thirteen to twenty. However, before they could start their apprenticeship, they had to decide what occupation they wished to follow, find a suitable master and settle terms, all difficult decisions to make.
Finding a Master
One of the most responsible and difficult duties of parents was to see 'their children well dispos'd of, well settled in the world'. This involved the provision of a sound moral upbringing, an education suitable to their talents and expectations in life, and a considerable outlay in money to see them apprenticed and started in the world. Parents were also expected to help children
choose the particular career that they were to follow, ideally helping them discern their vocation and in any case using their worldly wisdom to distract them from unsuitable, unworthy or unprofitable occupations. This was a very difficult task, where parental ambition or fondness could easily lead to serious mistakes. 'Pride, avarice, or whim are the chief counsellors of most fathers when they are deliberating the most serious concern in life, the settlement of their children in the world,' wrote Campbell.
Campbell was sufficiently worried by the problem to produce in 1747 the first really useful guidebook to the London trades, written specifically to help parents make their choice. He outlined the innate skills and talents necessary for each trade, occupation or profession, together with the probable costs of acquiring the competence to practise them and their likely monetary rewards. Before the appearance of this book, it must have been extremely difficult for parents and their adolescent sons, particularly that majority who lived in the country, to have had much idea of what might be a suitable occupation to follow in London and even more difficult to know which master to choose for the period of apprenticeship. Books written on apprenticeship before Campbell considered the subject in such a general manner as to be virtually useless in terms of practical guidance. It was in fact the morals of the master rather than his competence as a businessman or teacher which were most often emphasized. Moral qualities were clearly important in the man who was to be master of one's son for seven years, but they needed to be coupled with practical qualities if a young man was to get on in the world. How then did apprentices find masters in Augustan London?
Family relationship was one obvious link between master and apprentice. Thomas Purcell, for instance, was the son of a gentleman from Shropshire, who was apprenticed to a silkman in 1618. His own apprentices included virtually all the male members of the next generation of his family, the son of his elder brother, two sons of his younger sister and two of his own sons. The cloth merchant, John Randall, followed a similar pattern, five of the apprentices whom he took between 1648 and 1669 being called either Randall or Claxton, his wife's maiden name. Other obvious links included geographical propinquity
and trading partners. Thomas Williams, the son of a yeoman of Walford in Herefordshire, was apprenticed to a stationer in 1635 and nineteen years later he took as his own apprentice, John Harris, the son of another yeoman from Walford. Luke Meredith, a London bookseller, took as an apprentice in 1692 William Wilmot, the son of an Oxford bookseller who was one of his major customers. Such examples could easily be multiplied, but the importance of such relationships should not be exaggerated. Very few men in our sample were in fact apprenticed to masters of the same surname or of that of their mother's family and most apprentices seem to have found masters with whom neither they nor their parents had any prior relationship of any sort.
A master might be found by a professional intermediary, such as a scrivener. In 1676, for instance, Mary Sturges, the widow of a Leicester mercer, 'authorized Mr Hunt, a scrivener in London, to finde some fitt able and discreet person to place her son apprentice to' and this turned out to be Leonard Compeere, citizen and leatherseller, who followed the trade of milliner in the Royal Exchange. This was probably a common role for a scrivener to perform, used as they were to carrying out other services for provincial customers. Advertisement was another source of introductions. John Houghton, a pioneer of newspaper advertising, included several notices of apprentices seeking masters and vice versa in his Collections. 'By reason of my great correspondency', he wrote in February 1693, 'I may help masters to apprentices and apprentices to masters. And now is wanting three boys, one with £70, one with £30, and a scholar with £60.' Similar advertisements can be found in early eighteenth-century newspapers but they would have satisfied only a fraction of the market and most introductions were made on a much more personal basis.
Most apprentices seem in fact to have found their masters through the mediation of 'friends', a word which had a rather different connotation in our period than it does today. A man's friends played a very important part in his life, similar to that played by the kin group in many societies. They tended to be older people, usually male, of the sort that even today one might have to invite to a wedding party whether you liked them or not. They might include relatives such as uncles, possibly
god-parents, business or social associates of one's father and similar people who could be expected to be wise in the ways of the world and often comparatively well off. They were people who needed to be cultivated with care and treated with respect, for a man's friends were his best source of prudential advice and financial assistance and were likely to be his advocates and the upholders of his good character in times of trouble.
Because of the continuous migration into London and the growth of inland trade, most provincial families had at least one 'friend' in the metropolis. Most had several and it was these friends who would seek out a suitable master for their sons and would then keep an eye on them and, if necessary, mediate if they ran into difficulties. The friends of John Parker, the son of a Lancashire man, for instance, were John Ashurst and Edward Rigby, both members of the Merchant-Taylors' Company and countrymen of his father, and Anthony Parker, a lawyer of Gray's Inn, presumably a relative. When John Parker's master turned him out of his house, he went to see Ashurst, and Ashurst and Rigby then went to the master's house to mediate. The friends of William Bullivant, who was apprenticed to a worsted-seller in the early 1650s, were his two uncles, Samuel Holland, a merchant-taylor who arranged the apprenticeship in the first place and often visited the shop to check on the boy and ask 'whether he was being faithless and untrusty', and John Holland of the Charterhouse, aged sixty-five, who also 'oftentimes came to visit him'.
Whoever fixed up the apprenticeship had a lot of work to do. They first had to decide what occupation the boy should follow or interpret the rather vague instructions of parents or widows on this point, decisions which were affected by the amount of money available for the boy's training as much as by any apparent talents that he might have. They then had to find a master following this occupation who wanted an apprentice, who had the reputation of being kind, moral and competent at his job, and whose business was large enough and varied enough to enable an apprentice to get a broad education in the trade. Finding such things out required visits to the prospective master's house to make a judgment on his domestic relationships—a squalid household or a dominant wife, for instance, being seen as a bad sign—and a round of the taverns and
coffee-houses in the vicinity to discover the master's 'reputation', the opinion of neighbours as to his character and business competence being seen as crucial.
Once a decision had been made on a master, it was necessary to hammer out the details of the contract, a process which could take several months. The actual form of the apprenticeship indentures, covering the reciprocal rights and duties of the two parties, was fairly standard. The master agreed to teach and instruct the apprentice 'by the best means that he can' and to find 'his meat, drink, apparel, lodging and all other necessaries' (such as the cost of medical attention), according to the Custom of the City of London. The apprentice promised rather more:
The said apprentice his said master faithfully shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawfull commandments every where gladly do. He shall do no dammage to his said master . . . He shall not waste the goods of his said master, nor lend them unlawfully to any. He shall not commit fornication, nor contract matrimony within the said term. He shall not play at cards, dice, tables, or any other unlawfull games, whereby his master may have any loss. With his own goods or others . . . without licence of his said master, he shall neither buy nor sell. He shall not haunt taverns or play-houses, nor absent himself from his said master's service day nor night unlawfully: but in all things as a faithfull apprentice, he shall behave himself towards his said master.
This was standard stuff. Where the negotiation lay was in the details, such as the number of years' service, which was usually seven, but eight for apothecaries and quite often for younger apprentices or in respect of a lower premium. Another bargaining point was who provided the apprentice's initial wardrobe, how extensive this should be and who was to keep this wardrobe repaired and replaced—no small matter since the clothes suitable for a merchant's apprentice might well cost his parents or friends £40 and the very cheapest outfits for those apprenticed to low-grade trades were likely to cost between £5 and £10. Then, there was the question of security. 'Generally tradesmen who have any considerable trust to put into the hands of an apprentice, take security of them for their honesty
by their friends.' Signing bonds for the good behaviour or 'truth' of apprentices must have been a worrying moment, since they had access to large sums of money and some were far from honest. The penalties of such bonds were sometimes very large, £1000 for apprentices in the Levant trade before they went abroad, £500 for the apprentice to a goldsmith-banker, £100 for a scrivener's apprentice, £150 posted by Eleanor Palmer to persuade a linen-draper to take back her scapegrace son after he had stolen some goods and a promise to take him away if he offended again.
Finally, there was the settlement of the premium. This down payment to the master seems to have been an innovation of the seventeenth century and indicates the value that a London apprenticeship was deemed to have. There seems little doubt that the premiums demanded were increasing but, even at the beginning of our period, they were high enough to explain why so few poor men were the fathers of apprentices. The premiums for merchants' apprentices which we have found between 1650 and 1680 ranged from £100 to £860 asked for a Levant merchant's apprentice. Most were between £200 and £500. A witness in a court case of 1653 said that the typical premium for a woollen-draper was £100 to £120 and similar sums were paid by mercers' and drapers' apprentices in the 1670s. In the same decade a boy apprenticed to a milliner was asked to pay £30 and to a yarn-seller £40, figures which reflect the range of premiums paid in the haberdasher type of business. The premiums paid by artisans were rather lower, though still high enough to deter the fathers of the poor: £10–£35 for coopers, £20–£50 for working goldsmiths, £10–£35 for cutlers, figures which reflect six months' or a year's pay for journeymen in these trades.
These were big sums for parents to pay, though they were only the beginning of the financial outlay necessary to set a young man up in business. There were, however, many sources from which a boy's premium might come and so alleviate the pressure on parents. Friends and relations might well contribute to this vital payment to ensure a boy's future, while legacies (especially by uncles) were often specifically designed to pay a premium. The provision of a fund whose interest was used to pay the premiums of deserving poor apprentices was also a
common form of charitable bequest. Then there was the possibility of deferred payment. The father of an apprentice to the cook's trade was given eighteen months to pay his premium in 1678, while a glover agreed to pay the balance of his son's premium to Robert Foyce, a surgeon, in 'as many gloves as should be expended at the christening of the said Robert Foyce's next child', an interesting gamble in an age of high infant mortality.
Contracts often specified that there should be a period of a few months' trial or 'liking' before the formal binding. John Dunton, for instance, was 'not fasten'd for good and all at this time, but my master and my self were left to make the experiment how we cou'd approve each other'. Dunton in fact ran away after a few days, like many another homesick lad, but his father persuaded him to go back and 'after a month's liking was bound'. All that remained now was the formal enrolment of the new apprentice, first before the Master and Wardens of the master's Livery Company and later before the City Chamberlain, 'who is Guardian of all apprentices and has a right to see justice done between them and their masters'. Enrolment before the Chamberlain was supposed to be done within a year of binding and was the final stage in the process by which master and apprentice committed themselves to seven years in each other's company. Failure to enrol was grounds to break the contract and, judging by the number of cases where such grounds were presented before the Lord Mayor's court, it seems that it was common practice deliberately to neglect this formality in order to give the parties an easy way out of what was otherwise a difficult contract to break.
The Learning Process
What did the apprentice do and how well was he instructed in his master's trade? The answers to such questions naturally varied enormously and depended on the type of occupation, the diligence of the apprentice and the character and expectations of the master. Some masters did their duty very conscientiously; but many neglected to instruct their apprentices almost completely, some from idleness or because they were rarely resident in London, many from a fear that too much instruction would
create a dangerous competitor in the future and many because they saw their apprentices as unpaid menial servants and nothing else.
Complaints that apprentices were set to menial tasks and denied instruction were a common theme. Sir John Fryer, a future Lord Mayor who was apprenticed to a pewterer, was set to 'doing the servile part of ye trade, such as turning ye wheel, oileing and cleaning ye ware when finished, carrying of baskets of goods to ye inns and other such like things not commonly done by other apprentices'. Such work should have been done by journeymen and porters and not by a young apprentice, whose 'dear mother had not inured me to any hard labour'. Many similar complaints can be found in the records of the Mayor's Court: a soapmaker's apprentice who was 'put to doe such servile and drudging work as was fitter and most usually done by labourers', the apprentice to the master of an East Indiaman who had to do 'the slavish and most drudging parts of the ship's work', was ranked as a seaman, not a midshipman 'in his dyett and labour' and was not instructed in navigation 'in such manner as is usuall and necessary for mariners' apprentices'.
One does not have to believe such complaints, since they were normally denied by witnesses for the masters, but the fact that they were denied helps to define what was expected of apprentices. The language is revealing too, the repeated use of words such as 'servile', 'slavish' and 'drudging' suggesting that public opinion thought that apprentices who had paid large premiums should be taught the business side of a trade and the skills associated with it, but should not be employed as menial servants. The connection between size of premium and type of work is made explicit by Benjamin Clements, a wire-drawer, who claimed that he accepted Thomas Brown as his apprentice with a premium of only £7 10s., instead of the usual £20 or £30, specifically because he was 'not to be trained as a wire-drawer for the first two or three years but only to run errands, he being then young and small of his age'. Witnesses in a case relating to the Norwegian timber trade stated that there were two levels of premium, one much higher than the other for those apprentices who were to be sent abroad to learn the trade at their
master's expense. It seems, then, that one might expect to get the instruction one had paid for.
Drudgery and hard labour actually connected with a trade might well be seen as a necessary part of training; drudgery in the service of the household clearly was not, though many people thought that such work should be done by apprentices. Daniel Defoe, writing in the 1720s, bemoaned the fact that apprentices no longer cleaned their master's shoes and waited at table, tasks which he claimed they had done as a matter of course in the past. However, Defoe had a habit of idealizing the past and there is no doubt that apprentices objected to doing domestic tasks even before he was born. Once again, the fact that masters took the trouble to produce witnesses to deny allegations on this score suggests that contemporaries agreed that there should be a distinction between work done by domestics and apprentices.
For all that, much domestic work was done by apprentices. Francis Kirkman, apprenticed to a scrivener in the 1640s, learned to draw up documents but also did other petty services—cleaning shoes, carrying ashes, sweeping, cleaning the sink, drawing beer, fetching coals. 'When I have bin seriously a drawing writings in the shop, and studying and contriving how to order my covenants the best way, a greasy kitchin-wench would come and disturb me with her errants.' Such complaints were commonplace. In the 1670s we find a merchant's apprentice with a £200 premium 'employed in cleaning shooes, sweeping of cellars and chambers and making of beds'. He asked whether it was 'usuall or common for merchants' apprentices . . . who give considerable sums of money to their masters to do such inferior and drudging business', clearly expecting the negative answers which his witnesses supplied.
Evidence on the master's behalf in this case gives some idea of what was actually expected. One discovers that he was 'kind and loving to former apprentices and used them well in his service and sufficiently instructed them and endeavoured their advancement and preferment in the world and sent them beyond seas with considerable cargoes and also has sent and consigned goods to them both before and after their being his servants'. Such instruction included learning how to enter goods at the Customs House, how to keep accounts and how to buy
cloth at Blackwell Hall, while the apprentice would simultaneously be trying to build up a good reputation with other masters who would be his future customers and correspondents. The merchant's apprentice had to work hard to be competent at his business before being sent abroad in his third or fourth year, there to build up his trading capital through commissions as a factor, before returning to London many years later to set up on his own and take on apprentices in his turn.
Much less had to be learned in shopkeeping trades, Campbell claiming that the 'mystery' of most retail businesses could be learned in a month or two. 'Their skill consists in the knowledge of the prices, properties, the markets for such goods, and the extent of the demand for the various articles they trade in: buying at one price, selling at another, weighing and measuring, is the whole mystery of the retailers in general: the greater number of articles they sell, the greater memory and acuteness is required, but a moderate share of wit serves their turn in general.' Shopkeepers' apprentices therefore found themselves behind the counter fairly quickly. William Browne had only been in the service of a draper for six months when he was acting as his cash-keeper, a fact which we learn when his master accused him of embezzlement. Benjamin Giles served in Jacob Rogers' mercer's shop from an early date in his term and one of Rogers' customers deposed that he 'could sell any goods in the defendant's shop in his absence as well as the defendant himself', though reflection led him to change his deposition to the more politic 'almost as well'. He was after all the master's witness. Wholesalers' apprentices also served in the shop but might well be sent into the country on their own to sell their master's goods, as a distiller's apprentice was in 1679. The other main job was the perennial one of collecting debts, both in the town and the countryside, tasks which are normally heard about because they gave rise either to the fairly trivial complaint that the apprentices, once freed of the shop, spent hours loitering, visiting taverns or staring into the Thames or, more seriously, took the opportunity to put some of the money collected into their own pockets.
It might be comparatively easy to learn to be a shopkeeper or a wholesaler, though one feels that Campbell minimizes the problems of learning to trade successfully, but it was far from
simple to acquire the necessary skills to do well in many other occupations. Most skilled artisans really did need several years to enable them to equal their masters in a period when London was famed for the extremely high quality of many of its manufactures. Lawyers' clerks, who normally served five years, could expect their fair share of drudgery but would also have to study seriously if they hoped to set up independently, and the same was true of scriveners, who usually served seven or eight years. Even more knowledge had to be crammed in by the apprentices of apothecaries and surgeons, who were amongst the few young Londoners whose competence was tested by examination at the end of their term, though some skilled trades such as goldsmiths and pewterers still required apprentices to produce a masterpiece before being made free of their companies. Simon Mason was apprenticed in 1715 to Mr Ralph Cornelius, an apothecary 'who was a very good master to me'. 'I first endeavour'd to obtain a knowledge of simples and their virtues, next the art of composition and making medicines, and to acquire a compleat knowledge of quantity and quality. And as I advanc'd farther in my apprenticeship I attended the sick and made the most strict enquiry into the nature of distempers.' He also read widely and attended St Thomas's Hospital as often as possible. Before the end of his term, he was visiting patients on his own and 'directing most of the medicines our patients took'.
Cornelius was well pleased with Mason's progress and, as a reward, gave him 'a priviledge he never did to any apprentice before', allowing him to treat 'young gentlemen in the venereal way', getting the medicines at cost and keeping the fees, which earned him nearly £50 a year 'which kept me handsomely in clothes and pocket money'. Trading or practising independently of the master, with or without his permission, seems to have been quite common. Merchants' apprentices, for instance, normally took some of their own capital when they were sent abroad, £1000 being typical for a young factor in the Levant trade, and anyone with an easily saleable skill, such as a surgeon or a scrivener, was likely to be trying to make something on the side towards the end of their term. Many shopkeepers' apprentices interpreted such possibilities in a rather liberal manner, such as the bookseller's apprentice John
Martin, who not only sold the books he stole but spoiled the market by selling them cheap, 'one booke that he hath sold for a groat that the defendant did usually sell for half a crowne'.
Other apprentices used their growing skills to bargain with their masters to pay them wages, though taking wages technically disbarred them from acquiring the freedom of the City and so setting up shop on their own. However, by the early eighteenth century, the payment of wages towards the end of an apprentice's term was quite common, the threat of desertion on the grounds of the master's cruelty or some other pretext being a common bargaining point. And indeed, by this stage, most apprentices would be worth wages since their skills were likely to be equal to those of journeymen long before the end of their terms. This was usually the test of competence in court cases, such as that relating to Luke Butler, apprentice to a wine-cooper, who was said to be able to do the work 'the same as a journeyman and could deserve a good wage at it', a point which simply emphasizes the fact that in most trades seven years' apprenticeship was merely a racket which provided masters with cheap labour.
The Life of the Apprentice
Service in another person's household may seem to us one of the strangest institutions of earlier times, but there was of course nothing strange about it to contemporaries, and service as a farm servant, a domestic or an apprentice was the normal experience of the majority of young people. There were, however, two features of service as an apprentice in London which clearly distinguished it from the normal run of such occupations. In the first place, one's parents or friends paid handsomely for the privilege; in the second, most apprentices of the sort discussed in this book were at least of the same social standing as their masters and many came from families of distinctly higher status. Both these factors caused frictions in the household, quite often leading to a breakdown in the relationship between master and apprentice, though one should not exaggerate this. Many masters treated their apprentices as real members of the family, another son, and were carefully chosen because they promised to do so. However, many were
unable or unwilling to develop such a relationship, the apprentices themselves not always being very helpful in this respect. Young men from good families are not always very tactful or respectful, and a master might well object to being called 'puppy and puppy dog and other ill names' by a youth who must have seemed no more than a puppy to him.
It must have been a fairly traumatic experience for the young apprentice when, at the age of sixteen or so, he arrived with his box of clothes to start his term. For most young men, it was probably the first time they had been away from home and the first that they had seen of the basically hostile environment of the big city. Working conditions varied, but the hours were long, typically from seven in the morning to nine at night with a break of two hours for dinner at mid-day, and it is hardly surprising that young people from leisured homes where they had not been 'inured to labour' should complain of drudgery. Living conditions varied from master to master and depending on the 'degree and quality' of the apprentice, but there was a pecking order which required that the youngest apprentice 'was to be commanded by everyone', a general dogsbody who might well find himself sleeping on a truckle bed beneath the counter in the classic tradition. Food might well be poor and shared with the menial servants rather than above stairs with the master and mistress. Such discomforts might be compounded by harshness and cruelty. One should not take the complaints of apprentices at face value, but beatings and blows from angry, drunken or sadistic masters do seem to have played a fairly regular part in their lives. One can find apprentices who were locked into their room or out of the house, thrown down the cellar stairs, beaten with canes, pistols, spurs or horse-whips, some of these punishments leading to serious injury.
Life could be hard for the apprentice, too hard for many homesick and miserable young people, who took the first opportunity to run away, many never to come back. There were, however, good reasons for masters to treat their apprentices harshly in many instances. An apprentice who bullied the master's children, insulted his wife or caused domestic discord by abusing his servants was hardly likely to be treated kindly, nor was one who lost his master money by his surly demeanour in the shop or by such carelessness as burning cloth in a hot
press. Embezzlement and theft were also rife, not surprisingly given the enormous temptations placed in the way of young apprentices by the careless business methods of many masters, such as the linen-draper who instructed his apprentices to leave the takings 'in bags between the piles of cloth behind the counter' and only counted them and placed them in custody on Saturday night. Some apprentices were simply bad, thieves who broke open tills or their fellow-servants' boxes, louts who came in drunk and woke the household in the middle of the night or went to bed with their clothes and dirty shoes on and so damaged the bedding. Some apprentices were actually dangerous, such as William Palmer, who not only kept low company and was extravagant and idle but was also subject to mad fits, on one occasion attacking his fellow apprentices with a knife and who ended up trying to hang himself in the cellar.
The miserable junior apprentice did not remain so for ever. After a year or two's unpleasantness, there was likely to be a new junior to bully and an improvement in status, a move from the truckle bed under the counter to a room in the house, perhaps a move from the kitchin to the master's table. Custom also allowed senior apprentices greater latitude in dress, even such privileges as wearing their hats in the shop and the house. By this time, apprentices knew their way about London and how to enjoy themselves, even if some keen young men might spend their nights and play-days learning shorthand. Parents who could afford large premiums could afford pocket-money and some apprentices had plenty to spend. They spent it as one might expect, on drink, gambling, the theatre and the dancing school, on late-night feasts of oysters and lobsters in their rooms, and perhaps most extravagantly of all on women, a mistress or a miss being a sure sign that the high-living apprentice had arrived. In short, apprentices systematically ignored every one of the moral clauses in their indentures.
Some young apprentices behaved just as badly as the rakes in Restoration comedies, who could have provided a model if one had been needed. An example is John Todd, the son of a gentleman who was apprenticed to Nicholas Wild, a merchant. According to Wild's younger brother Ralph, who lived in the same house, Todd's behaviour was simply outrageous. He frequently came home drunk very late at night and put the
house into disorder. He would forget to carry letters to the Post Office, sometimes keeping them a week before delivering them. He kept a wench in Covent Garden, where he had taken a chamber for her, and was said to have spent £40 or £50 on her clothes and other expenses. Worst of all, he once pawned the poor girl for 22 shillings when he was losing at hazard and she was forced to leave her petticoat behind as a pledge before being allowed to go home.
Other high-living apprentices were more discreet; sober and reasonably well-behaved in the master's house, wild and far from sober once out of the neighbourhood. Many kept the paraphernalia of high living far away from their master's house, a sword 'at the other end of the town', a mistress in Whitechapel or Covent Garden, and some fighting cocks in Old Street, like Titus Manley who kept six at a time and paid someone to look after them, often winning or losing £5 in a day from gambling on the birds. One often learns such things from the very people who benefited from their licentiousness, keepers of taverns giving evidence of their drunkenness, neighbours of their mistresses attesting to their lewd reputation. Even a servant treated to a night out might provide evidence of an apprentice's extravagance, such as Mary Bethell, who told the Mayor's Court that her master's apprentice had taken her to the playhouse and then out to supper, where he had plied her with oysters and wine, confirming that 'the same was a considerable charge and expense to him'. The same apprentice's addiction to cock-fighting was revealed by Anne Swinstead, another fellow-servant, who when asked how she knew that he went to cock-pits replied rather disingenuously that she had seen him 'pull out of his pockets cocks, spurrs and implements belonging to such business'.
Many apprentices were accused of offences, and many confessed to them, which could have led them to the gallows under England's harsh penal code. Some were indeed hanged, the wayward apprentice being one of the stereotypes found in biographies of criminals. However, prosecution was expensive and the outcome doubtful, and a hanged apprentice was of no value to a master, so only a few apprentices were prosecuted before the criminal courts. It was much more effective to extract 'an ingenious confession on paper' by entreaty or violence or
the threat of violence or prosecution. Such confessions could then be used to recover losses from the apprentice's parents or friends and held in reserve as a guarantee of the apprentice's future good behaviour. Threat of exposure to loving parents was another effective way of bringing an erring apprentice to heel, a maid, Joyce Knight, deposing in one case that 'if his father knew of something he had done, it would breake his heart'.
The other main way to deal with troublesome apprentices was to complain to the City Chamberlain, who might simply give the lad a serious avuncular talk or, more likely, order him to be whipped or imprisoned for a few days in Bridewell, or both. The Chamberlain also acted as mediator in disputes between master and apprentice, hearing evidence from both parties and their witnesses and friends, and arbitrating himself or appointing arbitrators, a role also performed by the Wardens of the master's Company. The Chamberlain often went to great lengths to try to persuade a master to take back an erring apprentice or to convince the runaway that his best interests lay in returning to his master's service. Such intervention was often successful, but by no means always, most of the evidence used in this chapter coming from cases heard before the Mayor's Court, a fact which normally meant that all arbitration and intervention by Chamberlain, Company, parents and friends had failed.
The apprentice has so far been considered as an individual, but 'the apprentices' or more often 'prentices' appear frequently as a generic term in contemporary literature, sometimes meaning what it says but quite often being a synonym for youth in general. Apprentices formed a large group in London society, modern estimates of their numbers in the second half of the seventeenth century ranging from 11,000, which is certainly much too low, to 40,000, which is far too high. In some areas, particularly in the City, they might form as much as 10 per cent of the population of a parish and, since they were nearly all young and male, could make their presence felt in a number of ways from simple youthful high spirits, such as playing football in the streets, to drunken disorder, riot and even the occasional intervention in politics.
However, it is wrong to think of the apprentices as a
homogeneous group since, despite a superficially similar status and experience, they differed one from the other as much as adolescents as they were to do later when they had completed their terms. Older apprentices differed from younger apprentices, merchants' apprentices from butchers' apprentices, sons of gentlemen from sons of husbandmen, and these differences were much more important to the young men than the fact that they were all apprentices. London society was hierarchical at all levels, a fact only too obvious towards the end of the period of service when the majority of apprentices had nothing more to look forward to than a lifetime as a journeyman or clerk, while that minority who are discussed in the rest of the book would be thinking of setting themselves up in business and, before long, taking on apprentices in their turn.