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Title: British apprenticeship, 1800-1914
Author: Knox, William Walker
ISNI:       0000 0001 3601 2706
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1980
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British apprenticeship, despite its importance in industry, and elsewhere, has been almost totally neglected by most labour historians. Where it has been discussed it has generally been in the context of industrial relations, and therefore tied solely to economic questions, such as wages and hours, as they affected adult workers and employers. In view of this imbalanced and narrow approach the task of this thesis is threefold: firstly, to present a total picture of the apprenticeship system; secondly, to analyse the factors which have influenced the development of the apprenticeship system itself, and the changing role of the apprentice within it; and, lastly, to offer an explanation as to why an institution inherited from medieval society continued to play a major part in modern British industrial capitalism. Under the terms of the first objective it will be argued that apprenticeship is more of a social relationship than an economic one, in the sense of seller of labour to buyer of labour. True, the apprentice was a member of the working class, but due to the educational aspect of his labour he was not seen as a wage-earner but as a worker/pupil. Learning rather than labouring, in fact, was how his work was thought of. This was illustrated in numerous ways: the apprentice was rarely free to sell his labour on the open market because of the existence of social and, if under indentures, legal restraints; neither did he receive the full value of his labour; he was also not expected to take part in industrial disputes; finally, the language most frequently used to describe the socio-economic situation of the apprentice, for example, words such as obedience, service, faithfulness, and so on, suggested a relationship of greater complexity than mere wage earning. Another important feature of apprenticeship which tends to confirm this notion of social relationship was the large amount of symbolism and ritual associated with it. The passage from the status of apprentice to that of journeyman was marked by elaborate ceremonies. Thus apprenticeship was seen not simply as a means of acquiring a skill, or earning a wage, but also as a preparation for adult life. In analysing the development of apprenticeship, in Britain, and also the changing role of the apprentice within a given trade or industry, it will be argued that economic and technological development played a crucial part. For example, in the first half of the nineteenth century the need to meet the ever expanding demands of the domestic and overseas markets encouraged the development of specialised tools and work processes, initially, in textiles, and, later, in other trades, such as engineering. These developments acted to break-up the all-round skills of the pro-industrial handicraftsman and led, in some instances, to shorter apprenticeships (that is, less than seven years) and more flexible methods of entering a trade. The net effect of this process was to destroy, in the first instance, but not without a titanic struggle, the Elizabethan system of labour protection as enshrined in the Statute of Artificers; and, in the second, to bring about the gradual decline of the indoor system of apprenticeship. But it will be stressed that this process was by no means automatic or determined and that it was mediated through and by real human beings. Thus the path was by no means smooth or even. Different trades and areas responded in a variety of ways. For example, indoor apprenticeship although almost unheard of in Birmingham in the 1840's was still widely practiced in London and Sheffield. However, notwithstanding these important qualifications, the changed conditions did signify a major shift in the apprerticeship system; from a system based on a mixture of custom and legality, to one based on the former alone. Moreover, in those places where the indoor system had been discarded the paternalism associated with it was replaced by the cash bond of the outdoor system. The arprentice was, then, nominally transformed from a servant into a wage labourer, although, as we have said, not in the strict sense of the word. Thus by 1850 the modern system of apprenticeship was laid down, that is, a system of outdoor apprenticeship in which the apprentice was paid a small wage in lieu of food, clothing and shelter, and where the mode of binding, either formal or informal, was optional. And subject to some modifications, for example, the general decline in formal or indentured apprenticeships, this remained the basic structure of apprenticeship in Britain.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History