An apprentice is someone who learns a trade by working with an expert. In the past, the apprentice or their parents would sign a contract called an indenture, promising to live and work with their master for a set time, which could be for up to seven years.
(Download examples of indentures belonging to apprentice John Walton and Harriet Senior via the links below.)
Children who were sent to factories as apprentices were usually orphans. Orphans and abandoned children were the responsibility of their local parishes. The parish authorities often apprenticed children to help them learn a trade and support themselves in later life.
Often apprenticeships gave children useful training and a more secure future. Yet, they could also lead to exploitation as there were few checks to make sure that apprentices were well treated. In some cases, very young children were sent to factories because it was cheaper than educating them.
The system was often abused. Many children were homesick, or found that they could not take the life of an apprentice, and tried to run away. However, the apprentice was considered to be the mill owner's property - almost a slave - and newspaper advertisements would offer rewards for the return of runaways (see top left image above above).
Abused - When something is used in a way it is not meant to be
Apprentice - Child or young person who is learning a trade
Effectively - Might as well have
Indenture - Contract between an apprentice and their master
Orphan - Someone whose parents have died
Parish - Local area responsible for looking after people living there
Poor Law - Law passed in 1837 which forced poor people to go into a workhouse to receive help from the state
Links to the other 'Craft Made From Graft' resources are at the bottom of this page.