England Orphans and Foundlings (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Orphans and Foundlings

Overseers also had to supervise placement and payment for care of orphans, foundlings and other abandoned children in the workhouse or in the community until they were old enough to be apprenticed out. Payments to women who took in one or more of these children are encountered in the records; and census records indicate the relationship by the term nurse child. Many were brought up in orphanages, run by charitable or religious groups such as the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, now the Children’s Society, who have started to index their records from 1882-1896 (see Cockney Ancestor 1997 #76 page 13).

Boarding Out Registers

Registers of children in the care of the workhouse guardians but boarded out for a fee with local families may be found.

Pauper Apprentices

Orphans and children of poor families were bound out as apprentices usually to menial tasks as the fee was small. Boys would be general or agricultural servants, termed husbandry, or put to the sea service, which included the Royal Navy, shipwrights, fishermen and ship owners, as ship’s boys even as young as seven years old until 1847 when the minimum age was raised to nine. By law the master of every ship of 30-50 tons had to take an apprentice, one more for the next 50 tons and one more for each successive 100 tons. They could also go to factory or mine owners (Litton 2001-2). Some would be taken by shoemakers or other crafts where they actually advanced in the world in a useful trade.

Girls were typically put to housewifery or women’s business in a home or inn, or to spinning, and were essentially domestic drudges, but occasionally to slightly better positions such as millinery. Although most apprenticeships were for seven years and started at age 14, pauper children could be sent out as young as seven and continue until age 21, (24 for boys until 1768). Apprentices were not allowed to marry without their master’s consent.

The parish farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers and factory owners were expected to each take a share of the pauper apprentices, but in some parishes were allowed to pay a fine for not taking one. One can imagine that some of these children, through malnourishment and ill treatment, were not the best apprentice-prospects. Illegitimate children, especially boys, might be apprenticed to their biological fathers, either because he genuinely took an interest in them, or because the overseers considered it his duty. Orphans might be apprenticed to uncles or elder brothers, and stepsons to their stepfathers, which ensured that the whole family had the same place of settlement.

Overseers were not above apprenticing children away from their home parish and against the wishes of their parents, as after 40 days this relieved the parish of responsibility for them. Some southern England parishes shipped wagonloads of pauper children from 1786 to the Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire textile and cotton mills who welcomed them as a source of cheap labour. London children were being shipped as far away as Glasgow in 1805. These practices were curtailed by acts of 1802 and 1816, and London children could then only be sent 40 miles from home (Camp 1994, who quotes Horn).

Charity apprentices had better conditions than pauper apprentices in their indentures, which usually ensured reasonably fair treatment and in a decent trade rather than menial service.

Indexes and Lists

The vestry minutes and overseers accounts are good sources for information on individual apprentices; their names and details will be there even if the individual indentures have not survived. Some of these records were indexed contemporaneously, and there are also modern indexes for many parishes available from Family History Societies and county archives. As pauper apprenticeships were not subject to the tax imposed from 1710-1804, they do not appear in those records (IR 1) or their indexes (IR 17).

Halifax Masters Taking Pauper Apprentices 1800-1801 Film FHL film 1551141

Date of
Masters Name and Trade
Apprentice Name
Mar 19 1800
Received of John Greenwood the sum of ten Pounds in lieu of having an apprentice
Apr 4
Received of Thomas Gregory the sum of ten Pounds in lieu of having an apprentice
Apr 28
Luke Greenwood dresser
William Holden
John Gurr esq gun maker
Thomas Oates
Jul 21
William Gregory grocer
Sarah Bates
Jul 21
Thomas Gledhill currier
Esther Beverly
Jul 21
Thomas Greenwood cotton manufacturer
Joseph Nicholl
Jan 7 1801
George Green comb maker Paid the fine in lieu of having a Parish apprentice
Aug 10
Miss Mary Grimshaw Pd the fine in lieu of having a Parish Apprentice

Extract from Index of Halifax Pauper Apprentices 1783-1828

Date of Indenture
Apprentice Name
Masters Name and Trade
1820 Aug 19
Gaukroger, Joseph
Smith, Thomas coalminer
1828 Mar 8
Gaukroger, William
Wiseman, James
1827 Sep 29
Gibson, Charles
Crapper, John rope maker
1787 Aug 8
Gill, James
Sokald, Josh tailor
1831 Apr 30
Gill, John
Townsend, John carpenter
1807 Aug 1
Gill, William
Webster, Jno (Bradfield) paper maker
1785 Oct 17
Gilpin, Betty
Gaukroger, Josh farmer
1803 Nov 7
Gledhill, Ann
Werwall, Wm hosier
1830 Oct 30
Gledhill, Harriot
Child, Ann milliner
1828 Mar 8
Gledhill, Mary
Worstenholme, Isaac innkeeper
1816 Apr 18
Gledhill, William
Gledhill, Eli painter
1821 Mar 3
Gordon, Elizabeth
Wilson, Nicholas cotton manufacturer
1823 Dec 9
Green, Edward
Farrer, John hatter
1807 Aug 9
Green, John
Green, Isaac butcher
1826 Mar 25
Greenwood Abraham
Wainhouse, Nathaniel innkeeper
1830 Sep 11
Greenwood, Mattw
Stooles, Benj. (Southowram) coachmaker
1821 Dec 8
Greenwood, Noah
Sykes, Isaac cordwainer

Apprentice Indentures

These were similar to regular indentures but with slightly different wording. Two copies were made on one sheet of paper, and then this was cut in half with a wavy line (the indenture) so that the two would match if there was ever a dispute. One copy was signed by the master and the Justices of the Peace and kept by the parish. The other, kept by the master and presented to the apprentice at the end of his time, was signed by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor. Even if you have no pauper apprentices in your ancestry you may find your ancestor’s signature on a series of such indentures as a master, magistrate or parish official.

Pauper Girl Apprenticeship 1792 From Brighthampton, Oxfordshire to Abingdon, Berkshire

This Indenture, made the twenty fifth Day of July in the thirty second Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, and in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven Hundred and ninety two.

Witnesseth That Thomas Pinnock yeoman one of the Overseers of the Poor and Churchwardens of the Township of Brighthampton in the County of Oxford And Thomas Brown the other Overseer of the Poor of the said Parish, by and with the consent of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said County whose Names are hereunto subscribed, have put and placed, and by these Presents do put and place Charlotte Hicks a poor Child of the said Parish, Apprentice to John Moss of the Parish of St. Helen in the Borough of Abingdon in the County of Berks sack cloth maker with him to dwell and serve from the Day of the Date of these Presents, until the said Apprentice shall accomplish her full Age of twenty one years or be married which shall first happen according to the Statute in that Case made and provided.
During all which Term the said Apprentice her said Master faithfully shall serve in all lawful Business, according to her Power, Wit, and Ability; and honestly, orderly, and obediently, in all things demean and behave herself towards her said Master and all his during the said Term.
And the said John Moss for himself, his Executors, and Administrators, doth Covenant and Grant, to and with the said Church-wardens and Overseers, and every of them, their and every of their Executors and Administrators, and their and every of their Successors, for the Time being, by these Presents, That the said John Moss the said Apprentice in the art of spinning hemp and housewifery which he now useth, shall and will teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed in the best way and manner that he can.

And shall and will during all the Term aforesaid, find, provide, and allow, unto the said Apprentice, meet, competent, and sufficient Meat, Drink, and Apparel, Lodging, Washing, and all other Things, necessary and fit for an Apprentice.

And also shall and will so provide for the said Apprentice, that she
be not any way a Charge to the said Parish, or Parishioners of the same; but of and from all Charge shall and will save the said Parish and Parishioners harmless and indemnified during the said Term

In Witness whereof, the Parties abovesaid to these present Indentures interchangeably have put their Hands and Seals, the Day and Year above-written.

Sealed and deliver’d in the Presence of us by the above named
Thomas Pinnock. Thos Curtis, J. Newbery
Sealed and delivered by the above named Thomas Brown in the presence of us. John Collingwood, Thos Kimber

We whose Names are subscribed, Justices of the Peace for the County of Oxford aforesaid, (one whereof is of the Quorum) do consent to the putting forth of the abovesaid Charlotte Hicks Apprentice, according to the intent and Meaning of the above indenture. P. Weston, W. Gabell

Thos Pinnock Thos Brown

Pauper Boy Apprenticeship 1782
Eling, Hampshire to Lymington, Hampshire [Summary]

A similarly worded document dated 7th August 1782 exists for apprenticing William Martin aged about ten years, a poor child of Eling in the county of Southampton to William Baker of Lymington, Southampton a mariner. The churchwardens were William Wiles and John Lane, and the Overseers Frances Ing, John Banniston, John Penfold and William Wyatt. William Martin was apprenticed until the age of 21 to the taught the art of a Mariner.

The consenting Justices were Thos HeathcoteandJ. Penton, and the witnessesWilliam ParkinandThos Gale.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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