An Unintended Consequence of Victorian Apprenticeships

One interesting and unusual aspect of Victorian life was how young men were trained in particular skilled occupations.

The son of a blacksmith, for example, (sometimes even if following in his father’s footsteps) would be taken under the wing of another craftsman for his apprenticeship. Literally ‘under the wing’ because the lad would not only work with his mentor but actually become part of the household.

(Anyone who has been ‘taught’ to drive by a parent will be able to empathise with the benefit of being apprenticed outside the family!)

Often these apprenticeships would take the form of a reciprocal arrangement whereby the families exchanged sons and, sometimes, this would result in an even closer tie between the two families if there happened to be a daughter ‘available’ and a marriage ensued.

Daughters, if they did not meet a match as a by-product of these apprenticeships, would almost certainly go into domestic service. This was the predominant form of female employment until WWI spurred the process, albeit hesitatingly, of allowing women into the wider workplace.

Domestic Servants were often the daughters of friends or relatives in what appears to have been a similar system to that in place for the male apprentices.

They, too, might make a match with a member of the hosting household, more usually a fellow employee, and thus it was that Victorian society (which was far more geographically mobile than is often assumed) aided the dispersion and social mobility of (skilled working-class/aspiring lower-middle class) families, a fact attested to by comparison of the locations of surnames over time.

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