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Apprenticeship is the system by which those intended to follow a particular occupation engage to serve and work under a master for a certain period, and the master engages to teach them during that period the industry in which he is occupied. This system was once very common if not universal, and with few if any exceptions every workman was compelled to serve a master for seven years before he could practice a handicraft on his own account. A large number of the rules and regulations of the medieval craft guilds dealt with the conditions of apprenticeship; and a solemn ceremony was observed when a boy was bound over to be an apprentice, and upon the period of service being completed, he became a full member of the guild.

These rules and regulations were codified in Elizabethan law. The system, however, was open to abuse; and Adam Smith protested against the way in which the trade corporations employed it, to maintain a monopoly of their exclusive privileges. As new industries were not bound to this system, in the development of the factory system in the 19th century manufacturers exhibited a wholesale disregard to the restrictions of apprenticeship. By 1814 Parliament suspended the laws of apprenticeship for all trades, though the custom prevailed in some instances beyond this time.

Margaret Gay Davies. The Enforcement of English Apprenticeship: A Study in Mercantilism, 1563-1642. Harvard University Press. 1956. 319pp.

O. Jocelyn Dunlop; Richard D. Denman. English Apprenticeship and Child Labour: A History. Macmillan. 1912. 390pp.

Joan Lane. Apprenticeship in England, 1600-1914. University College London Press. 1996. 320pp.

Bert de Munck; Steven L. Kaplan; Hugo Soly (editors). Learning on the Shop Floor: Historical Perspectives on Apprenticeship. Berghahn Books. 2007. 232pp.

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