Find your ancestors in Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Apprentices 1570-1910

For each record, you will find an image of the original document and a transcript of the vital information. The information in each transcript can vary depending on the age and condition of the record, but most will include the following details.

  • Name
  • Age
  • Birth year
  • Apprentice date
  • Address
  • Master’s name
  • Master’s occupation
  • Master’s place
  • Event type and year range of records
  • Place and County


The images will often reveal additional details about your ancestor. Below we have listed the different event types and the additional details you may find.

  • Apprentices' examinations (1830) – These are reports created by the justice of the peace regarding allegations brought against a master by an apprentice. For example, Ann Williams brought forth charges that her master, William Meathrel, did not supply her with adequate clothing. The charges were proved and Ann was released from her apprenticeship. Meathrel was ordered to supply Williams with sufficient clothing and pay £5 to the parish.
  • Apprentices register (1802-1836) – The printed registers are ordered by each apprentice’s entry number. The register recorded the apprentices’ sex, indenture term or length of the apprenticeship and signatures of the overseer and magistrate.
  • Apprenticeship books / freemen's papers (1610-1683) – The detail found in the apprenticeship books are similar to an apprentice register. It will include the master’s name, place and length of the apprenticeship.
  • Apprenticeship indentures, papers and or certificates (1638-1840) – This is an agreement between justices of the peace, churchwardens and the overseers of the poor to indenture a child of the parish. The agreement also states that the master will provide sufficient meat, drink, apparel, lodging and washing. The apprentice agrees to obey his master.
  • Apprenticeship order (1821) – This order is similar to an indenture agreement. It also includes a clause that states that the justices examined the property of the new master and declared it fit to take on an apprentice.
  • Orphan's aid educational foundation apprenticeship indentures (1868-1908) – The foundation was established for the education of orphan boys. The foundation facilitated apprenticeships for some of the boys. These records are agreements of apprenticeships and document the master’s name and the trade to be learned. Some the records show that the apprenticeship was agreed by the child’s mother or father. Even though a child was in the care of the orphan’s aid educational foundation, it did not necessarily indicate that both the child’s parents had died. In some cases, the parents were too poor to look after the child.
  • Apprentices and Apprenticeships – This event type will display a mixture of apprentice registers and indentures.

Discover more about these records

The Poor Law Acts of 1597 gave the parish churchwardens and overseers of the poor the responsibility of looking after the welfare of all pauper children and poor families within their parish or borough. To assist with the maintenance of pauper children, churchwardens and overseers facilitated parish or borough apprenticeships. After 1801, the overseer of the poor was ordered to keep apprenticeship records. However, even before this law, many kept detailed records, which is how this collection dates back to 1570. The changes to the law in 1801 meant that record keeping became more formalised and had a standard printed style which often included parents’ names.

Children would be apprenticed to local people and the borough would pay the apprentice fees. The child’s new master was responsible for the child’s welfare and was obligated to provide food, clothing, and lodging and to teach the child a trade. Trades could include butchery, tailoring, and tanning, but some pauper children were apprenticed to learn housewifery or husbandry on farms. In larger estates, landlords could assign apprentices to their tenants. Children as young as 7 could be bound to a master and usually stayed within an apprenticeship until they were 21 or, in the case of female apprentices, until they were married.

Many apprentices were used as a servant in a house and not all masters honoured their commitment to feed, clothe, house and teach their charges. In these unfortunate cases, many apprentices left their assigned homes. Court records show cases of apprentice mistreatment and the newspapers reported runaway apprentices. This was not the situation for all apprentices; for others, they became a valuable member of their host families and learned a trade for their future.