How to look for records of... Apprentices and masters

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name and date of birth of the apprentice
  • in which area they were apprenticed and where the stamp duty would have been paid

What records can I see online?

Apprenticeship books (1710-1811)

Search the apprenticeship books from 1710 to 1811 (IR 1) on (£) by name of master or apprentice. Alternatively, you can browse the apprenticeship books on digital microfilm.

Indexes to apprenticeship books (1710-1774)

Browse the indexes of apprentices from 1710 to 1774 on (£)

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Apprenticeship records of the merchant navy (1824-1953)

Consult BT 150 for indexes of apprentices registered in the merchant service between 1824 to 1953.

The earlier volumes give:

  •  the apprentice’s name
  • age
  • the date and terms of his indenture
  • the name of his master
  • the port where he signed on and the name of the ship (in later volumes only)

Browse BT 151 and BT 152 for samples of the original indentures, including some for fishing vessels.

Apprenticeship records in the Admiralty (19th century onwards)

Browse records such as

  • ADM 12 under the headings ‘Boys’ (code 13) and ‘Apprentices in Dockyards’ (code 41.16)
  • ADM 1 and ADM 106
  • ADM 73/421 and ADM 73/448 for apprenticeship registers
  • CSC 10 for marks and results of examinations of dockyard and artificer apprentices from 1876

Board of Trade papers (1846-1895)

Find references to apprenticeships in the indexes to papers (BT 19). Read the catalogue details for BT 19 to find related correspondence from various departments of the Board.

Poor Law union indexes and papers (1836-1920)

Find mentions of apprenticeships in the index of subjects (MH 15). This index may help you find additional related papers of individual Poor Law unions in MH 12.

These records relate to children of paupers and orphans who were apprenticed out by the guardians and overseers of the poor. They frequently relate to administrative and policy issues.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

London Metropolitan Archives

Read the Business and employment page for guidance on what records are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Records held elsewhere

Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Amanda Bevan, Tracing your ancestors in The National Archives (The National Archives, 2006)

Paul Carter and Kate Thompson, Sources for local historians (2005)


Search London Apprenticeship Abstracts 1442-1850 on the Origins Network website (subscription required), which contains some records of London livery companies.

Journal articles

Read ‘The City Boys: records of London apprentices’ by C Webb and E Churchill (Ancestors, 21, 2004).

Did you know?

The apprenticeship books are divided into Town Registers (London) and Country Registers (elsewhere), depending on where the stamp duty was paid.

If the apprenticeship was in Middlesex or one of the home counties the duty may have been paid in London and the details entered in one of the London registers.

From 1710-1811 the master paid stamp duty for taking on the apprentice.  The payment could be made at the start of the apprenticeship or any time up to one year after the expiry of the indenture.

The rate was 6d (sixpence) for every £1 under £50 which the master received for taking on the apprentice, and the rate of 1s (one shilling) for every £1 above £50. The indentures on which duty was payable cover Great Britain but not Ireland.

You may not be able to find records for common trades such as weaving or other 18th century industries because

  • informal indentures became increasingly common with fathers often teaching sons and nephews
  • the Statute of Apprentices only applied to trades which existed when it was passed in 1563