Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Conditions of medieval apprenticeship in Bridgwater

Conditions of medieval apprenticeship in Bridgwater

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

On 11th November 1424 Michael, son of John Laleye of Ireland made an indenture of apprenticeship with John Davy, tanner, of Bridgwater and his wife Joan Davy. I have written before about apprenticeships, on this blog and with articles in published historical journals. In most cases the information on these apprentices comes from edited manuscripts where the essential information about the apprenticeship is given, such as, name of the apprentice; name, occupation and address of the apprentice’s father; name and occupation of the master and the name of his wife; the term of the apprenticeship in years (7 years is the usual basic term); the end of term payment and possibly the fee for gaining freedom of the borough. Sometimes an indenture will also say that the apprentice was to have “one tool of every kind for the said craft”.[1]

West Quay at Bridgwater - highest point of navigation on the River Parrett

It was with delight, therefore, that I recently came across the fully transcribed indenture giving the conditions of the apprenticeship between Michael Laleye and John Davy. These conditions are outlined below.  

1.      The first condition of the apprenticeship was that Michael Laleye agreed to “put himself servant and apprentice to the aforesaid John and Joan [Davy] according to the use and custom of the city of London”.[2]
2.      The second condition was that for the full term of the apprenticeship (10 years) Michael Laleye would keep for the “master and mistress in all things well and faithfully shall serve, their secrets and counsel shall keep, [and] their lawful and honest commandments everywhere gladly do”.[3] The modern phrase of “industrial espionage” is clearly an ancient activity and John Davy desired to protect his business from competitors.
3.      The apprentice then agreed that “From his service by day and night he shall not unlawfully absent himself”.
4.      This was followed by further conditions that the apprentice “shall do them no damage or dishonour, nor see it done of other but that so his power shall hinder, or forthwith give warning thereof to his master and mistress”.
5.      The apprentice “shall not waste their goods, nor lend them to any one without their leave or special mandate”.[4] In 1648 Richard Hunt tried to use a similar condition to be quitted of his apprentice, Joseph Griffin, by falsely accusing him of stealing money.[5]
6.      The apprentice will with “all goods and chattels of his aforesaid master and mistress which are in his care to guard he shall give good and faithful account, whenever and as often as he may be suitably required to do”.
7.      “Matrimony with any woman within the aforesaid term without licence of his aforesaid master and mistress he shall not contract”.
8.      “Fornication or adultery within or without their premises with any domestic of theirs he [the apprentice] shall not commit”. If Michael Laleye did commit such crimes and was convicted he “shall double his whole service aforesaid in the service of the master and mistress aforesaid, or shall make them some reasonable amends according to the decision of trustworthy men such as the parties shall decide to choose between them”.[6]
     This condition could also apply to family members of the master, if John Davy had children in 1424. In his will made in 1461 John Davy mentioned two of his daughters, Joan and Katherine. There may have been other daughters who were deceased by 1461. There is no indication of the age of the two daughters but Katherine was married to Thomas Eyre. This would make Katherine Davy at least 20 years old yet there is no evidence that she was alive in 1424.[7]  
9.      If Michael Laleye quitted his apprenticeship before the end of term then he should will and agree “that the aforesaid master [John Davy] and mistress [Joan Davy] or their attorney in this behalf by virtue of the present indenture may seek him in whosesoever service he may be found and bring him back to his former service without contradiction made of the aforesaid apprentice or the same detainer of him”.[8]
     Although not stated as a condition of this indenture it is noted in other cities and towns that if a master died or if master and apprentice both agreed to a change then an apprentice could be “turned over” to another master of the same trade. Some commentators stated that an apprentice could be bought and sold to another master but the right of change was controlled by the trade guild or town council and if any money was transacted it would go to these governing bodies.[9]
10.  For all of these conditions the master, John Davy and his wife, Joan, were to “practice, teach and instruct” Michael Laleye “in the arts and goods they use, by the best means they can”.
11.  The master and mistress were to find the apprentice “meat and drink, clothing linen and woollen and all other things necessary for him as is suitable to be found for such apprentice during the term [10 years] aforesaid, paying the same apprentice moreover at the end of the above said term 6 shillings 8 pence [6s 8d] of lawful money of England”.

The indentured was witnessed by at least five people from Bridgwater.[10] After the indenture was made in 1424 Michael Laleye seems to disappear from the records. We presume that he served the full ten years of his apprenticeship and kept to the conditions outlined above. The nature of surviving documents is that only bad news gets into the press and survives. If Michael Laleye appears in no court proceedings at the borough court or elsewhere it is presumed that he was a good apprentice who behaved himself and obeyed all the rules. As his name does not appear in later records of the borough of Bridgwater it is likely that Michael Laleye returned to Ireland after the ten years.

Of course the master could also break the conditions of an apprenticeship. Later court documents record cases in this regard. One example from Wiltshire, in 1637, recounts that Edward Starkye was charged with abusing and beating his apprentice, John Dracott.[11] John Davy does not appear as that kind of master. Instead, after taking his first apprentice, Michael Laleye in 1424, John Davy went on to accept other apprentices in 1426, 1432, 1433 and 1437. The conditions of these apprenticeships were on the same terms as outlined above for Michael Laleye.[12] If John Davy was a bad master it is likely that he would not have been able to receive these other apprentices. 

John Davy went on from 1424 to have a successful business as a tanner and died in 1461 leaving his second wife, Matilda and the two daughters previously mentioned, Joan and Katherine.[13] And it all began with an indenture of apprenticeship in 1424.

End of post


[1] Elizabeth Ralph & Nora M. Hardwick (eds.), Calendar of the Bristol Apprenticeship Book 1532-1565, part II, 1542-1552 (Bristol Record Society, vol. 33, 1980), no. 1391
[2] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445 (Somerset Record Society, Vol. 58, 1945), no. 616
[3] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, no. 616
[4] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, no. 616
[5] J.S. Cockburn (ed.),  Western Circuit Assize Orders 1629-1648, a calendar (Royal Historical Society, London, 1976), no. 1214
[6] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, no. 616
[7] Rev. F.W. Weaver (ed.), Somerset Medieval Wills 1383-1500 (Somerset Record Society, Vol. 16, 1901), p. 195
[8] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, no. 616
[9] D. Hollis (ed.), Calendar of the Bristol Apprenticeship Book 1532-1565, part 1, 1532-1542 (Bristol Record Society, vol. 14, 1948), p. 7
[10] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, p. 81
[11] J.S. Cockburn (ed.),  Western Circuit Assize Orders 1629-1648, a calendar, no. 501
[12] Thomas Bruce Dilks (ed.), Bridgwater Borough Archives 1400-1445, nos. 628, 655, 657, 673
[13] Rev. F.W. Weaver (ed.), Somerset Medieval Wills 1383-1500, pp. 194, 1955

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