Discover your ancestors who were apprenticed to various livery companies in London between 1442 and 1850. The records may reveal the trade your ancestor was learning, when he was apprenticed, his master’s name and where he was born. Some records may also provide information on the apprentice’s father’s occupation and parish. The original records can be accessed from the Guildhall Library.
Each record comprises a transcript of the original abstract. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
• First name(s)
• Last name
• Apprentice year
• Father’s occupation
• Birth county
• Birth country
The record set comprises 486,370 names, including around 165,000 apprentices in addition to their parents and masters.
The ‘Details’ field reveals the livery company to which the individual was apprenticed. It also reveals the apprentice’s father’s name, and the master’s name. This field may also provide information such as the apprentice’s father parish, whether the father is deceased, if the apprentice was discharged and details of the duties involved. Some of the ‘Details’ fields provide additional information about the conduct and punishment of the apprentices. Thomas Franck, an apprentice cutler to John Busshell was “whipped for beating his master and pilfering” on 5 September 1611.
Dating from the early medieval period to today, records of the Livery Companies of London offer vast amounts of genealogical and biographical details on members.
Less than 30% of the "London" apprentices actually came from the London area, though the proportion varies considerably between the different companies. For example, the Blacksmiths' and Fishmongers' apprentices include more than 33% from London and Middlesex, compared to a little under 31% for the Butchers, and under 21% for the Grocers. Keep in mind that an apprentice's master does not necessarily follow the trade indicated by the company name.
In early records, individuals who belonged to a given livery company would generally practice the trade to which that Company referred, but after around 1650, it became increasingly common (until in some companies virtually universal) that members practised another trade altogether. Therefore, it may be difficult to find the right livery company even if you know your ancestor’s occupation.
Trade and craft associations known as guilds or livery companies have flourished across Europe for a thousand years. With the rise of towns, they became common during the 11th and 12th centuries. Trade and craft associations were originally voluntary associations or fraternities with religious and social objectives. The craft element came about almost incidentally, largely because people of the same craft tended then to live in the same locality. The word 'guild' comes from the Saxon word for payment, since membership was paid for. 'Livery' refers to the clothing worn as means of identification; distinctive costumes were common in the Middle Ages, with all great households giving their dependants and armed retainers a livery (or uniform).
The religious aspect of the fraternities influenced the character of the guilds, encouraging good fellowship and hospitality within the fraternities. Meetings for funerals or masses were followed by feasts which, as the fraternity (later the guild) prospered, became more and more elaborate - leading to the entertainments for which the Companies are still famous.
The early companies were the medieval equivalent of trading standards departments, monitoring the quality of goods and weights and measures. They also controlled imports, set wages and working conditions and trained apprentices.
From the Middle Ages until the mid-19th century the Craft Guilds of London, better known as the City Livery Companies, were closely linked with the freedom of the City of London. Liverymen had to be freemen of the City, and in this way the Corporation of London were able to exercise a degree of control over the livery companies.
The first reference to London Guilds occurs in the Exchequer Roll of 1130, mentioning dues owed to the crown by the Weavers; the 'Goldsmiths of London' are referred to as though they were already an organised body. In the same century associations of Bakers, Pepperers (afterwards a branch of the Grocers' Company), Clothworkers, Butchers, Turners, Cooks and Coopers all seem to have existed. These were probably already long established bodies.
Throughout the years, a number of the Livery Companies have become defunct, for example the Silk-throwers, Silkmen, Pinmakers, Soapmakers, Hatbandmakers, Long-bow Stringmakers, Woodmongers, Starchmakers and Fishermen. Others have been created, however; in 2000 the 101st and 102nd livery companies were granted their charters (the Water Conservators and World Traders, respectively).
Many of the records of the London Livery Companies are now deposited at the Guildhall Library where they can be freely consulted: Guildhall Library, Manuscripts Section, Aldermanbury, London EC2P 2EJ Phone: +44 (0)20 7332 1863
In addition, the original papers supporting a granting freedom apprenticeship from 1681 survive in The Corporation of London Record Office. Although often very difficult to use, they are invaluable for companies whose records do not exist. The Corporation of London Record Office, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB Phone: +44 (0)20 7332 1251
Between 1710 and 1814, there was a duty on apprenticeship, and the records of this are preserved in The National Archives: until around 1750, the father's name, parish and occupation are provided 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 considerable number of exemptions under this act, and naturally as many people as possible looked for this exemption, which means that many apprenticeships that might be expected to be found in this index aren’t there.
The abstraction and indexing of these records has been undertaken by Cliff Webb, with the exception of the Apothecaries' Society, which was undertaken by Patrick Wallis.