About the collection
Records of the Livery Companies of London are one of the greatest archival treasures of the world. Dating from the early medieval period to the present, they provide a mass of information on innumerable subjects. For the family historian, they can provide an immense amount of genealogical and biographical details on members.
The Abstracts provide information from the apprenticeship records of a number of the livery companies selected because the records generally give good genealogical detail, principally, the name, parish and occupation of the apprentice’s father. For a given livery company, the abstracts will generally end about 1800 or later, depending on the coverage of the manuscript volume containing that year. In some cases records cease before 1800.
Over 165,000 of these record abstracts are contained in the database, with over half a million names indexed: apprentices, their parent, and masters. In nearly every case, the father (more rarely the mother) of the apprentice is given, with their place of residence – which can be anywhere in the British Isles or overseas.
Less than 30% of the “London” apprentices actually came from the London area, though the proportion varies significantly between the different companies. For example, the Blacksmiths’ and Fishmongers’ apprentices include over 33% from London and Middlesex, compared to just under 31% for the Butchers, and under 21% for the Grocers. It should be borne in mind that an apprentice’s master does not necessarily follow the trade indicated by the company name. While it may be tempting to think that the prestige of a company might affect the number of apprentices coming from outside the Metropolitan area, this does not seem to be the case, for the Grocers’ is the second of the “Great Twelve” livery companies while the Fishmongers’ is the 4th.
In early records, persons who belonged to a given livery company would generally practice the trade to which that Company referred, but after about 1650, it became more and more common (until in some companies virtually universal) that members practised another trade altogether. Searchers, therefore, even if they know the occupation of the subject of interest, may not be able to find the right livery company to search at all easily.
The London Apprentices Abstracts contain the name of the apprentice; his father’s (rarely the mother’s) name, place of residence (parish or town, county, and country, if not England); father’s occupation; the name of the master and the date of the indenture. If the father was stated to be dead, this is indicated. If the record notes that he was subsequently turned over to another master, or, as is sometimes recorded, became free, died etc, this is also noted.
The value of these abstracts is best illustrated by the examples below.
Bernard Ackett, son of Richard, [living at] Sherborne, Hampshire, [father’s occupation] husbandman, [apprenticed to] Francis Gray, Armourers’ & Brasiers’ Company, [date of indenture] 31 May 1713
Both direct and indirect assertions can be made from this record.
Direct inferences from the record
- Bernard Ackett’s father was Richard Ackett
- Richard Ackett and Bernard Ackett were living at Sherborne, in the county of Hampshire, in May 1713
- Richard Ackett’s occupation was a husbandman
- Bernard Ackett was apprenticed to Francis Gray on 31 May 1713
- Francis Gray was a member of the London Livery Company of Armourers & Brasiers. (This does not necessarily mean that he actually was an armourer or a brasier, or that Bernard Ackett became a practicing armourer or brasier.)
- Bernard Ackett, Richard Ackett (probably) and Francis Gray were all alive on 31 May 1713 [NB The abstracts generally say if the father is dead]
Indirect inferences, made from a knowledge of what the record implies
- Bernard Ackett was 14 [to confirm] years old or more on 31 May 1713, implying he was born before 1700.
- Bernard Ackett moved from Hampshire to in or near London shortly after 31 May 1713
- Richard Ackett was almost certainly over 30 years old on 31 May 1713, implying he was born before 1683
- Richard Ackett was [most likely] married before 1700
- Francis Gray probably lived in [or near] London in 1713
- Francis Gray was probably over 25 [to confirm] years old on 17 May 1713, implying he was born before 1687
Further indirect inferences, with lower probability
- Bernard Ackett [may have] resided in London until around 1720
- Bernard Ackett [probably] resided at same address as Francis Gray for approx. 7 years from 31 May 1713
- Bernard Ackett may have become “free” to practice his trade in about 1720
- Bernard Ackett may have married someone with the surname Gray [around 20-30% of apprentices married their master’s daughter]
- Bernard Ackett was born [reasonable possibility] in Hampshire
Abbisdiston, Jonas, son of Jonas, Holborn, cordwainer(deceased), to Thomas Atwood, Gold & Silver Wyre Drawers’ Company, 9 Sep 1725
The father in this case had died by the date of the indenture. You can draw the same kind of inferences from this example as from the previous one.
Abbott, Michael, son of Thomas, [living at] St Ann Blackfriars, London, [occupation of father] shoemaker, to [master] Benjamin Carey, 19 Nov 1761, [member of] Armourers’ & Brasiers’s Company
A typical abstract.
Abercrumey, Thomas, son of John, Shoreditch, Middlesex, shoemaker, to Edward Staples sr., 4 Nov 1729, Framework Knitters’ Company
Edward Staples sr. implies that Edward had a son also called Edward.
Bishop, Thomas, son of Thomas, Eastington, Gloucestershire, tailor (deceased), to John Hoskins, 1 Jan 1679/80, Bowyers’ Company
The apprentice’s father was dead by this date. The year is given both Old Style (1679) and New Style (1680), since the date is before 25 March.
Abbott, George, son of William, Arthingworth [? in Ms ‘Archinborough’], Nth, fuller, to William Moore, 14 Oct 1682, Carmens’ Company
A probable error in the original register has been corrected.
Bourne, Richard, bound apprentice 10 Aug 1660, to Richard Edwards, turned over to William Presbury, 18 Nov 1667, Spectaclemakers’ Company
A turn over. Richard Bourne was initially apprenticed to Richard Edwards and turned over to William Presbury seven years later. Perhaps Edwards had died, or perhaps Richard Bourne wished to become free of the Spectaclemakers’ Company.
Cam, Joseph, son of John, St Margaret Westminster, Mdx, schoolmaster, to Henry Wilson, jnr., 30 Apr 1740 [31 Jul 1742 turned over to George Prous, citizen and turner with consent of master] Basketmakers’ Company
In this case it is explicitly noted that the turn over was with the first master’s consent. Citizen implies that that George Prous was freeman of the City of London. It seems likely that Joseph Cam’s first master was a turner despite his membership of the Basketmakers’ Company. Note also that Henry Wilson is jr., implying that his father was also called Henry.
A large proportion of the records of the London Livery Companies are now deposited at the Guildhall Library, where they may be freely and conveniently consulted. From the genealogical viewpoint, the two most important series of records tends to be those where people were apprenticed to a master, and those where individuals were admitted as freemen of the company in question.
There are two alternate general sources for limited periods for London apprenticeships. Firstly, the original papers supporting a granting freedom from apprenticeship survive in the Corporation of London Record Office from 1681. Though often very difficult to use – they were strung together through a hole in the middle – they are invaluable for companies whose records do not survive, or for which only un-detailed records are extant.
From 1710 until 1814, there was a duty on apprenticeship, and the records of this are preserved in The National Archives: until about 1750, the father’s name, parish and occupation are given in these records, and there are a series of indexes for the period 1710 to 1774 at the Society of Genealogists. There were, however, a large number of exemptions under this act, and naturally as many people as possible sought this exemption and so many apprenticeships that might be expected to be found in this index are not there. It is again, however, an invaluable, if partial, substitute for lost records and as a general index and lucky dip.
Additional detail in the source records, but not abstracted, include the street in which the master lived, the term of apprenticeship (usually seven years, but occasionally shorter or longer) and the premium paid.