Saturday, 31 May 2014

Guilds and Apprenticeships

If your ancestors were craftsmen, they most likely belonged to a Guild, which were popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages. There were two types of guilds, Merchant Guilds for traders, and Craft Guilds, for the artisans.  The Guild set the prices and standards of goods.  This protected not only the craftsman but the buyers as well.  Most major towns had a Guildhall, where the members met and conducted business, and where taxes were paid. If you didn’t belong to a guild it would be nearly impossible to get work. The guild members took care of their own.  When a person got sick he and his family were taken care of, and when one died the Guild would help with the funeral expenses.

While researching the Monpetit family for a friend, I found Francois Maupetit in the early 1600’s Fontenay, France. He was a master tailor and draper, who took on several apprentices over the years.  He bought a preferred spot in “Les Halles” (the merchant guildhall) at the forefront of the drapers section for £40, paid in cash.

When a person became a Master at his craft, he took on apprentices, and provided them with food, shelter and instruction. The masters oversaw the work of the apprentices and were responsible for buying the raw materials for the craft. Depending on the craft an apprenticeship would last up to 12 years. The apprentice had to make items, or essay pieces, as a test to pass his apprenticeship, and the pieces were graded by the essay master of the Guild.  When the apprentice passed he became a freeman and could open his own shop.

My ancestor, James Tait of Edinburgh became a goldsmith apprentice to George Yorstoun, goldsmith and Burgess, in Mar 1694 and was pronounced a freeman in May 1704. He became a master of his trade and was essay master to many young apprentices. Some of his pieces are in the Museum of Scotland today.

In Scotland it was necessary to join a guild then gain a burgess ticket to become a freeman of the burgh. A widow was permitted to take over her husband’s burgess membership and pass it to her son, as a woman could pass her father’s membership to her husband. The Burgess Rolls contained information on all its members, such as marriages and deaths, as well as apprenticeships.
For the United States, search the “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands” at They contain actual documents and there are some apprenticeships and work records.  Also letters of complaint from parents that their children are being held without consent.

Relevant Links:

Maltmen of Glasgow – lots of names in index

Burgess laws of Dundee (w/glossary in back) 1872

Goldsmiths and their marks – England, Scotland, Ireland 1905

Anything about Boots, Shoes - Repairing, Apprenticeships (scroll down for a list)

Guild of Handicraft – beautiful examples – like a small catalogue

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872  Delaware and Maryland(actual records and names) (+ more states)

Arts, trades, manners, and customs of the Chinese - as suggested by an examination of the articles comprising the Chinese Museum - Boston 1845

United Company of Merchants of England, trading to the East-Indies (names)

Scots-Dutch Links in Europe and America, 1575-1825 (Burgess Rolls - limited search) Book available through Family History Centers.  Also at Ancestry.

The Original Lists of persons of quality; emigrants; religious exiles;political rebels; serving men sold for a term of years; apprentices; children stolen; maidens pressed; and others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700

Book of Trades – (also in Occupations links) – by Dutch Artist Jan Luyken: click each one

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