Until 1844, the parish authorities had the power to apprentice pauper children to a master. Some of these children were taught a trade; others were little more than cheap labour or unpaid servants (think of poor Oliver Twist!)
Some records of parish apprentices still exist in Records Offices and Local Archives, and it’s always worth seeking these out. You may be lucky enough to find an Indenture of Apprenticeship, setting out the exact terms of the agreement: or you may find a Register of Apprentices.
An Indenture will tell you tell you the following details: the name and age of the apprentice, the name of his/her parents and their address, the name, trade and address of the master. ‘Addresses’ may only be the name of the parish, or of the town.
The Indenture will also set out the terms of the apprenticeship: in brief, these may be an agreement on the part of the master to instruct the apprentice in the art, trade or craft of the profession and to feed and clothe him; and on the apprentice’s part to follow his master’s instructions and to refrain from gambling, and drinking. Apprentices were also forbidden to marry.
The length of the apprenticeship will also be stated: by the mid-nineteenth century this was usually seven years, or until the age of 21.
The terms of apprenticeship were standardised, and you’ll often find the Indenture of Apprenticeship is a printed form, leaving only the particular details of names, address, dates and trade to be filled in.
The Register of Apprentices will not contain the terms of apprenticeship, as these were the same for all apprentices. The Register for the parish of Wolverhampton for 1831 – 1838 contains the following headings:
Number; Date of Indenture; Name of Apprentice; Sex; Age; Parent or Parents’ Names; Residence of Parents; Name of Person to whom bound or assigned; His, her or their trade; His, her or their Residence; Terms of the Apprenticeship or Assignment; Apprenticeship of Assignment Fee; Overseers or other Parties to the Indenture; Signatures of Assigning Magistrates.
If either the master or the apprentice broke the terms of the apprenticeship, an application was often made to the courts to sever the agreement: these can be found in the local Quarter Sessions records (and very interesting reading they make, too!)
More details about parish apprenticeships can be found here:
and for apprenticeships in general in the Victorian period :