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

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to researching records of an apprentice or master. Official records of apprentices were kept in England and Wales between 1710 and 1811, when stamp duty was payable on indentures of apprenticeship. Registers of the duty paid were kept by the Commissioners of Stamps.

What do I need to know before I start?

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

Try to find out:

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

The indentures on which duty was payable cover Great Britain but not Ireland.

Online records

Apprenticeship books (1710-1811)

From 1710 to 1811 masters paid stamp duty for taking on apprentices. Details of the stamp duty paid were recorded in apprenticeship books. Search the apprenticeship books from 1710 to 1811 (IR 1) on (£) by name of master. Alternatively, you can browse the apprenticeship books on digital microfilm.

The apprenticeship books are divided into Town Registers (London, 1711-1811) and Country Registers (elsewhere, 1710-1808), depending on where the stamp duty was paid. There are original indexes of masters to some of these registers, available to view online, in IR 1/74-79. The catalogue description for each index indicates the series of volumes to which they refer (for example, IR 1/74 refers to volumes 22-25). These volume numbers equate to National Archives piece numbers (so, using the previous example, IR 1/74 refers to IR 1/22-25).

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.

The payment could be made at the start of the apprenticeship or any time up to one year after the expiry of the indenture.

Indexes to apprenticeship books, 1710-1774

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

Indexes to apprentices registered in the Merchant Navy, 1824-1910

Search by name the indexes of apprentices registered in the Merchant Navy between 1824 to 1910 (BT 150/1–53) on Ancestry (£).

These index the original indentures in BT 151 and BT 152. Please note only a sample of the original indentures survive – for more information see below.

Articles of clerkship, 1756-1874

Search articles of clerkship (KB 105-107) by name on Ancestry (£). These are the contracts between an apprentice clerk, who wanted to become an attorney or solicitor, and an attorney who agreed to train the clerk. The contracts were often entered into by fathers (or other sponsors) on their sons’ behalf.

Records available only at The National Archives at Kew

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 (£).

Apprenticeship records of the Merchant Navy, 1824-1953

Consult BT 150 for indexes of apprentices registered in the merchant service between 1824 to 1953. Please note the indexes for 1824-1910 are available online (see above).

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 by date and by port BT 151 and BT 152 for samples of the original indentures, including some for fishing vessels. Please note only a sample survive (a two-month sample for every five years).

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.

Records in other archives and organisations

Apprenticeships at London livery companies, 1442-1850

Search London Apprenticeship Abstracts 1442–1850, held at the Guildhall Library, on the Findmypast website (£) for apprenticeship records of London livery companies.

Livery companies, also known as guilds, were (and still are) trade and craft associations. They encompass a wide variety of trades, from fishmongers, butchers and grocers to blacksmiths, clothworkers and brewers. Not all London apprentices came from London.

Various apprenticeship records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

The London Metropolitan Archives hold a huge collection of records of companies and businesses mainly based in the ‘Square Mile’ of the City of London and in the wider Greater London region. These include records of company members and apprentices. Read the London Metropolitan Archives’ business and employment page for detailed guidance.

Various apprenticeship records held at local archives

A variety of apprenticeship records are held at county and metropolitan archives throughout the country. The National Archives’ catalogue contains collection and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords such as ‘apprenticeship’ and ‘indenture’ and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


Search The National Archives’ shop 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)


Visit the Children’s Homes website for information on apprenticeships and the training of poor children.

Journal articles

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