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Fascinating document at Bishop's Stortford Museum gives an insight into a Victorian carpenter apprenticeship

In a regular series on artefacts at Bishop's Stortford Museum, Roy Fletcher looks at a Victorian document that shines a light on an aptly-named carpenter's first career steps...

At the museum we have a document, called an indenture, which is an agreement for a young man called Ernest Henry Chopping, of Bishop's Stortford, to be an apprentice carpenter to local builder Alfred Franklin, also of Bishop's Stortford plus Dunmow.

The apprenticeship was for five years. The document has been printed on parchment (for permanence) which is animal skin, usually sheep or goat. The words that have been machine printed are assumed to be the standard apprenticeship text, with space for completion, by hand, of words unique to this particular apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship, Victorian style (33928872)
Apprenticeship, Victorian style (33928872)

A number of interesting points within the document reflect what life was like for a lad undertaking an apprenticeship in Victorian times.

The document is dated July 14, 1881, although Ernest was not due to "serve" until June 20, 1883, so we can but wonder what age the boy was when he was signed up for the apprenticeship.

It also cost his family £20, which roughly equates to over £2,000 in today's values, so clearly the Chopping family were not poor. The indenture also bears what appears to be £1 stamp duty. Her Majesty's treasury of the day were going to benefit from apprenticeships.

The document is signed by both Ernest and his father, together with the two members of the Franklin business. The fact that Ernest, who we guess was probably in his early teens, was able to write is another indicator that the Chopping family were unlikely to be poor working class.

By signing this document, Ernest agreed that he would not waste the "goods of his Master". He would not contract matrimony nor play at cards or dice tables nor any other unlawful games. Neither could he frequent taverns or playhouses nor absent himself from his Master's service.

In return for his training he was paid 3/0d (15p or the equivalent of £17 in today's value) for the first year rising to 9/0d (45p or £53 in today's value) in his final year.

What Ernest found to spend his money on given the restrictions placed upon him we can only guess. On the upside, as his family and place of work were both in Bishop's Stortford we can assume that he did not have to find lodgings, although, no doubt, his parents took some of his salary for housekeeping.

The advert for A.Franklin in the Mardon Bros. Year Book, Directory and Almanac 1912
The advert for A.Franklin in the Mardon Bros. Year Book, Directory and Almanac 1912

Research has found a newspaper article detailing how this indenture came to be found. It would seem that a local lady was working as a home help to another lady, Miss Glady Chopping, whose father had been the young apprentice.

Miss Chopping died in the early 1970s but had no relatives. A box containing various artefacts was given to the former home help which included this document.

J & A Franklin were first mentioned in a Bishop's Stortford street directory dated 1885 with premises in Hadham Road. They remained there until 1917.

In 1928, Franklin's Garage opened on Stansted Road, before moving to the Causeway, and then later to Dane Street.

Museum curator Chris Lydamore has unearthed a copy of the Mardon Bros. Year Book, Directory and Almanac 1912, which has a listing for Franklin's which gives the address 9 Hadham Road. This is on the corner of Hadham Road and King Street broadly opposite the former Robin Hood. The Year Book also contains an advert.

"I have also got a copy of a picture in the archive which shows Franklin's after it had burnt down," said Chris.

Franklin's after it burnt down, believed to be around 1919-20.
Franklin's after it burnt down, believed to be around 1919-20.

"From the police uniform and the clothing in the picture I would guess it dates to around 1920, which chimes in very closely with the date of 1919 that Roy gives for Franklin's ceasing trading. could the fire have been the final coup de grâce?"

Roy Fletcher has been a volunteer at the museum for six years, spending his time cataloguing the museum's collection. Roy has an interest in local history, particularly the last 200 years.

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