Tag Archives: pauper

Schrödinger’s Training Clause: The Puzzles of Pauper Apprenticeships, Part II

James Fisher

This is the second post in a short series on different strands of research into pauper apprenticeships as a compulsory form of labour. Read Part I here.

The essence of an apprenticeship is the exchange of labour for training. Hence when examining pauper apprenticeships, we immediately have to confront the basic question: Were they seriously intended to provide training for poor children, and if so, to what extent was this achieved in practice?

After over a century of scholarship there is still no clear consensus. Broadly speaking, a negative view has prevailed that training was not the primary policy aim of pauper apprenticeships or a key contractual duty of the master. Instead, the aim was simply for the child to be maintained and to relieve the burden on their parents and the poor rate.[1] But this account has been repeatedly challenged by those who paint a more nuanced or even positive picture.[2] In particular, many have insisted that there was at least a minimal intention for children to learn something of practical use to enable them to support themselves in adulthood.[3]

One way we can examine the intentions of authorities is to focus on the apprenticeship contracts (indentures) that defined the legal arrangement and specified the duties of the master. Continue reading

The Missing 1550 Act: The Puzzles of Pauper Apprenticeships, Part I

James Fisher

The best introductions are fashionably late and retrospective, right?

I began my 3-year project researching pauper apprenticeships in the summer of 2020, which will contribute to a key strand of the FORMSofLABOUR project examining the relationship between freedom and different forms of work in early modern England. This is the first in a short series of posts to introduce the topic, share some provisional research, and explore a few puzzling features.

Here I will provide a brief sketch of the overall approach and intervention into current historiography, before illustrating this with a closer look at the statutory origins of pauper apprenticeships.

A Distinct Form of Labour

The basic approach is to investigate pauper apprenticeships as a device of labour regulation as well as poor relief. As a key provision in the consolidated Poor Law of 1601, the apprenticing of poor children by parish officers has overwhelmingly been studied as a response to and way of managing poverty. But this framework is too limited.

Firstly, its distinctiveness as a form of work – as compulsory, unpaid, long-term service in another’s household, for both girls and boys – has rarely been addressed in any depth. The working lives of pauper apprentices has mostly been considered from a humanitarian perspective concerned with the treatment of the child in terms of abuse by masters or miserable living conditions. This project seeks greater understanding of the structural condition that left children vulnerable to potential abuse, namely their lack of freedom as workers. Continue reading

PhD studentship available! This blog explains more

What’s available?

A three year PhD studentship is available to undertake research on ‘Work, poverty and coercion: pauper apprenticeship in England 1563-1700’. The grant covers PhD fees and a stipend of at least £15,009 per year full-time. It is available to UK and international applicants. To qualify you must have a 2:1 or first class (or equivalent) degree in History or a closely related subject, and have or be about to obtain an MA in History at merit or distinction level. A proven interest in the early modern social or economic history of England is a strong advantage. The deadline for applications is 14 Feb 2020. For details about how to apply

This blog explains more about the PhD project and the ideas behind it. Continue reading