14.12.07, Crossley, ed., Oxford City Apprentices, 1513-1602

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Ben R. McRee

The Medieval Review 14.12.07

Crossley, Alan. Oxford City Apprentices, 1513-1602. Oxford Historical Society, New Series. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer for the Oxford Historical Society, 2012. Pp. liii, 365. ISBN: 9780904107258 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Ben R. McRee
Franklin and Marshall College

Apprenticeship was an important part of urban economic and social organization in the medieval and early modern periods. The practice provided an inexpensive and ready labor force for merchants and manufacturers and an entrée to urban society for rural youth. Oxford's government began recording apprenticeship agreements in the early sixteenth century, enrolling indentures between masters and apprentices in summary form before the town clerk. Surviving enrollments run from 1513 into the nineteenth century; those from the eighteenth century were edited by Malcolm Graham and published in the 1980s (Oxford City Apprentices, 1697-1800 [Oxford Historical Society, New Series, Vol. 31, Clarendon Press, 1987]). Now Alan Crossley has provided a calendar of enrollments recorded in the city's two earliest enrollment books, providing details for 2,015 Oxford city apprentices between 1513 and 1602. That was a period of economic and demographic expansion for the city, changes readily reflected in the apprenticeship records, which saw the pace of enrollments grow from fewer than five per year in the 1520s and 1530s to almost fifty by the 1590s.

The entries follow a standard form, beginning with the date of the original indenture; the name and geographic origin of the apprentice; the father's name and occupation; the name and trade of the Oxford master; the length of the apprenticeship; and any special provisions, such as payments due at the end of the term. Unlike the enrollment books from which they have been transcribed and translated, entries in the published volume have been arranged into chronological order. Indexes make it easy to find particular individuals, geographic locations, and trades. To see how well these worked, I chose a location in Wales (LLandeysant, Carmarthenshire) and found that one Oxford apprentice, David Evans, originated there. Evans was apprenticed to John Slatford, an Oxford smith, in 1598. Another entry revealed that Slatford himself had come from Headington just outside Oxford, and had been apprenticed to a city smith thirteen years earlier, in 1585. After completing his seven-year apprenticeship, Slatford went on to supervise three apprentices of his own: Thomas Derle of Merton in 1593, Evans in 1598, and Thomas Nixon of Bladon in 1601. Nixon's agreement included a provision for tools at the end of his term, with Slatford to supply a hammer, pincers, a buttress, and a rasp. Looking at the smiths more broadly, the enrollments reveal that Slatford was one of eleven smiths who took on eighteen apprentices in Oxford during the 1590s, six taking a single apprentice during that decade, three, including Slatford, taking two, and the remaining two masters signing up three apprentices.

In a substantial introduction, Crossley discusses the origin of the enrollments and demonstrates the range of issues that they can be used to address. Particularly noteworthy is his analysis of the geographic origins of apprentices. Over the time period covered by the volume, most apprentices came from within a twenty-mile radius of Oxford, with the proportion of nearby recruits increasing over time. Nevertheless, forty percent came from beyond the twenty-mile band, predominantly from the north and northwest. Oxford drew relatively few apprentices from the southwest, south and east. Crossley questions the notion that apprentices coming from a great distance were primarily driven by poverty. He suggests that rather than being "wandering subsistence migrants," many were drawn to Oxford by "reciprocal links" established by earlier migrants from their town or village (xlvii). He points to Henry Bolton, an Oxford joiner originally from Cheshire, as an example. Bolton, who became a freeman in 1538, took on apprentices from his home county into the 1550s. In some cases, then, long-distance migrants were following a path marked out by previous successful immigrants.

Other topics taken up in the wide-ranging introduction include the question of under-enrollment of apprentices (declining from an estimated twenty-five percent in the first half of the sixteenth century to ten percent at the end); the length of apprenticeships (longer in the second half of the century); the relative popularity of different trades (tailors at the top, with 376 apprentices, followed by shoemakers with 216 and glovers with 213); and the proportion of apprentices who went on to became freemen at the end of their terms (perhaps only a quarter). Crossley's knowledge of Oxford apprenticeship goes beyond the 1602 end date of the enrollments included in this volume, extending well into the seventeenth century, and he makes good use of that expertise in his discussion of longer-term patterns.

In addition to the indexes mentioned above, the volume includes a pair of maps showing places of origin for apprentices; an appendix transcribing three enrollments in full (one in Latin, two in English), as well as an unusual stipulation appended to a fourth; and four plates reproducing enrollment entries.

Apprenticeship records are important tools for social and economic historians, and the appearance of this new calendar of enrollments in Tudor Oxford is a welcome addition to previously published material. The period covered in this work ends in 1602, which leaves a nearly century-long gap before the beginning of Graham's eighteenth-century calendar. We can only hope that the Oxford Historical Society will fill that opening with a seventeenth-century volume.

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Ben R. McRee

Franklin and Marshall College