In a prominent place in a cozy Long Island home are two huge volumes. These interesting books contain a record of that second honeymoon which so few of us attain in this world, the Golden Wedding. The record is a careful description of a trip to the old home in England of Allen Moore and his wife in celebration of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The books are illustrated with photos and letters, and on one page is a document which Mr. Moore—for half a century a loyal American—refers to in this way:
“I regard this document, which I have carefully preserved for 60 years, as my ‘Title Deed of Nobility.’ Some men inherit nobility, some get their titles by robbing other people, but my title came through hard and honest work as testified by Mr. Miller in his endorsement on the back of the indenture.”
This document, which he has preserved with the greatest care, is the indenture of apprenticeship, under whose terms Allen Moore at fourteen years of age was “bound ‘prentice” for the term of seven years.
At engineering and other educational conferences, where teachers from trade schools, industrial schools and manual training schools meet to discuss the many points concerning these various lines of work, an expression often heard is “the old apprenticeship system.”
It is the belief of the writer that many of the rising generation have but a vague idea of just what the old apprenticeship system was. For the purpose of making a study of the system the subject of this sketch was asked to give his recollections on the following points:
1. What work did your master give you to do first?
2. What was your work the first year, second year, third year, etc.?
3. What was the attitude of the journeymen in the shop toward the apprentices?
4. How were you treated by your master?
5. What were your own impressions of your apprenticeship?
With his usual courtesy Mr. Moore replied that he was “not much of a scholar but would be glad to do the best he could.” His account is given below in his own words, as any alteration would spoil the charming simplicity and clearness of his recorded impressions.
The copy of the indenture should be examined carefully as showing the peculiarly intimate relations of master and apprentice and also how far we have traveled away from those relations in sixty years.
For example:—”The said apprentice shall and will faithfully serve his said master, his secrets keep, his lawful commands gladly obey and do—hurt to his said master he shall not do, nor suffer to be done by others.”
The apprentice was thereby made not only the guardian of his master’s trade secrets, but his personal protector as well; and again,—the mother shall furnish the apprentice with meat, drink, washing and lodging, “also necessary and suitable clothes and wearing apparel of all sorts during the seven years.”
The method of paying the apprentice is interesting. Keeping in mind the fact that at that time a first-class journeyman joiner received four shillings (one dollar) a day, the apprentice was paid nothing the first year, two shillings a week the second year, three the third year, and so on up until the seventh year he received eight shillings weekly.
In commenting on this seven years’ experience, Mr. Moore regards it as the finest kind of training, and the most valuable experience of his long and busy life.
“His Title Deed of Nobility”
This indenture, made the first day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-two, between Allen Moore, son of Martha Moore, of Liverpool in the county of Lancaster, of the first part and the said Martha Moore of the second part and Richard Miller, of Liverpool aforesaid, Joiner and Carpenter of the third part:
Witnesseth, That the said Allen Moore of his own free will and with the approbation of his said mother hath put, placed and bound and doth by these presents, put, place and bind himself a covenant servant or apprentice to the said Richard Miller, his executors, administrators and assigns, from the day of the date hereof, during the term of seven years thence next ensuing, and fully to be completed and ended.
And the said Martha Moore for herself, her heirs, executors, etc., doth hereby covenant, promise, and agree, to and with the said Richard Miller that he, the said apprentice, shall and will faithfully serve his said master, his secrets keep, his lawful commands gladly obey and do; hurt to his said master he shall not do, nor suffer to be done by others, when it is in his power to prevent the same; his masters goods he shall not waste or embezzle, the same give or lend without leave; day or night absent himself from his said master’s service; nor do any other Act, Matter, or thing whatsoever to the Prejudice of his said master, but in all things shall demean and behave himself towards his master as a faithful apprentice ought to do.
And also that the said Martha Moore, her executors or administrators, shall and will find and provide or cause and procure to be found and provided for the said apprentice good wholesome and sufficient meat, drink, washing and lodging and also necessary and suitable clothes and wearing apparel of all sorts during the whole of the said term of seven years and in consideration hereof the said Richard Miller doth hereby for himself, his executors, administrators, and assigns, covenant, promise and agree to teach, inform, and instruct, or cause to be taught, informed and instructed, the said apprentice, by the best ways and means he can in the art, trade or occupation of Joiner during the term of seven years and also pay or cause to be paid unto the said apprentice (except during absence as hereinafter mentioned) the sum of two shillings per week during the second year of the said term. Three shillings per week during the third year, four shillings per week during the fourth year, five shillings per week during the fifth year, six shillings per week during the sixth year, and eight shillings per week during the seventh year of the said term of seven years as and for his board wages. But it is hereby expressly declared and agreed that the said weekly sums or any of them shall not be paid or payable for or during any time or times when the said apprentice shall or may be absent from the service of his said master through illness or any other cause whatsoever.
In witness whereof, the said Parties to these Presents their Hands and Seals interchangeably have put, the day and year first above written.
Signed, sealed and delivered in (being first duly stamped) the presence of
I hereby certify that the within named Allen Moore served me the full term specified in this indenture as a good and faithful apprentice ought to do.
March 2, 1849.
Allen Moore’s Apprenticeship to Woodworking
I was “bound “prentice,” as the old saying put it, before I was fourteen years of age. The indenture is dated March 1st, 1842, but I did not reach the age of fourteen until the eighteenth of April following. In those old times it was considered necessary for a boy to give not less than seven years of his life to learn a trade thoroughly, and in many cases large premiums were paid for boys to become “Indentured Apprentices.” I did not pay any premium, the low scale of wages I was to receive being considered an equivalent.
Many boys boarded with their “Masters” when the parents lived a long distance from the shop, the hours for work being from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Saturday to 5 p.m., with half an hour (7 to 7.30) for breakfast and one hour at noon for dinner.
Parents had to pay all expenses for board and lodging. When work was done away from the shop—on a new building say—the men were supposed to leave the shop at 6 o’clock a.m. and quit work at the regular time in the evening, the shop being considered the starting point for commencing work.
As a matter of course there were some advantages in being an indentured apprentice, for in the first place he was morally certain of learning the trade, he wanted to learn, in seven years if he had any capacity for it at all. Then again he was safe from any imposition on the part of the men, for he could appeal to the “Master” who was legally bound to see him righted, and it was beneficial in many other ways.
Then, when his term had expired, he could take his “Indenture” and all the best shops in the country were open to him, something like a school-teacher who holds a state certificate. Green hands without indentures stood a poor show for anything but the poorest kind of work and the poorest kind of pay.
It must be borne in mind that the conditions existing 50 or 60 years ago were very different from what exists now. You could not go to a factory and obtain doors ready made, or sashes, or moldings, or any of the things now made by machinery. All had to be made by hand, right from the big log or balk.
Planing machinery, mortising and tenoning machines and all the other woodworking machinery now in common use, were at that time entirely unknown. It may seem strange to relate, but it is quite true that the first steam sawmill in Liverpool was erected only about one year before my apprenticeship expired and it was considered quite a curious sight to see the gang-saws cutting up the big logs into boards of various thicknesses at such a rapid rate.
At our shop all that heavy work was done by hand labor, the great log or balk being rolled onto skids placed across the saw-pit and the top of it carefully aligned with a chalk line to the thickness of boards required. I sometimes volunteered to take the place of the “pitman” and pull down the big saw from below, the “topsawer’s” duty being to guide the saw carefully along the chalk mark as he stood upon the log.
The log being cut up into boards the next thing was to horse them, i. e., to stand them up on end the full length as they came from the saw-pit. This was no small job as the boards were often thirty to 40 feet long by, say two feet wide. Sometimes it required the strength of five or six men to raise these heavy boards, but the younger apprentices were always expected to lend a hand with this work.
The boards being horsed, Fig. 1, were left there until they became perfectly weather-dried, the only boards kiln-dried being floor boards, the reason for this being that floor boards at that time were not tongued and grooved but planed with square edges by means of long jointing planes. When laid down they were pressed hard together with heavy clamps or dogs and the surface then traversed or planed perfectly smooth all over. Being kiln-dried they would not shrink any but might possibly swell a little and thus keep the joints absolutely tight. I never saw tongued and grooved floors until I came to America.
You will notice in the indenture that I did not receive any pay the first year of service and I remember quite well my first job of work. After being introduced by the foreman to the men at work in the shop, I was then conducted to the rear of the shop to a large anvil and a box full of crooked nails. The foreman instructed me how to straighten these and prepare them for further use, putting the different sizes into a box divided into compartments for this purpose.
I may mention that the hammer I used was not of the “claw” variety—in fact I never saw claw hammers used by joiners until I came to this country. If a nail went astray in driving it had to be withdrawn by a pair of pincers, which did not injure the surface of the work.
An apprentice did little the first year except the simplest kind of work and attending upon the men. He generally began the day by lighting a fire upon the open hearth with shavings and saw dust and then was busy collecting the men’s coffee cans in order to get them heated by breakfast time. He was at the beck and call of the men at all times when they required his services.
He had to turn the handle of the grindstone, when the men ground their plane irons, chisels, etc., make himself generally useful in any little way he could and be a good part of the time simply a looker-on to observe how work was done by others and thus gradually get familiar with the handling of tools, without any special work being assigned him.
Naturally the boy had to submit to many practical jokes on the part of the men and the older apprentices, but he did not suffer much from that if he took his medicine good-humoredly. I never had any trouble with any of the men, young or old, and being of an even temper soon became a general favorite amongst them. They gave me the nickname of “Daddy,” supposing such a small boy was unlikely to become a father except in the comical sense of being father to all the men and boys in the shop.
I was very fortunate in making the acquaintance of one of the older apprentices who was three or four years my senior. He belonged to a family about on a social level with my own and our friendship grew to be so close and warm that amongst our associates we became known as “David and Jonathan,” he being over six feet tall while I was small of stature. We were great “chums,” visited at each other’s homes—took long walks into the country in the long summer twilight evenings and our friendship remained unbroken until his death. His term of apprenticeship expired two or three years before mine and he left home almost immediately for America, traveling all over the United States and Central America, working his way from one place to another.
The indenture makes no provision for any specific kind of work each year because that depends quite largely upon the capacity of the apprentice, just as the promotion of scholars in public schools depends upon the ability of the scholar to master certain studies.
The shop foreman is the best judge of what kind of work each boy is fitted for, and so after the boy’s first year’s experience in the shop, getting acquainted with the names and uses of different tools and how to handle them, and getting used to the ways of the men he has to work with, the foreman will give him some simple bench work, such as planing boards for door and window casings*, the backs being left rough.
*He uses the word “casings” to describe what Americans call “jambs”.
As a rule such casings were made from the outside slab of the first cut from the log and the back left rough just as it came from the saw-pit. The face side, however, had to be planed perfectly true and out of winding with the jack plane, jointing plane and smoothing plane—the edges being square with the face and parallel width to gage—one edge rabbeted out of the solid for the door to fit into, Fig. 2.
Skirting (base) boards with a molding or bead on the top edge, Fig. 3, was another form of simple planing work which the young apprentice had to practice on. The work was all solid, however, no separate facie board* nailed on to form the rabbet for the door, or loose molding nailed on top of base board.
*What we call a fascia board.
This is all plain work of course, but every piece was inspected by the foreman and any defects in workmanship pointed out. A boy was not considered a perfect workman if he succeeded in making one or two good jobs but was kept at same kind of work for weeks or even months together until he could be trusted to turn out the work required in good shape to pass inspection.
The proper use of saws and how to file and set the teeth was the next important lesson for the apprentice, the rip-saw especially, as all boards had to be cut up by the hand rip-saw for the different purposes required. For instance, if a lot of sashes had to be made, a board or plank of proper thickness—say two inches—would be taken down from the timber horse in the yard, carried into the shop and laid across two saw benches.
Then the foreman would carefully line it off with a chalk line to the proper size for styles, rails or bars as the case might be. The apprentice was then instructed how to hold the saw in a perfectly perpendicular position and make a clean cut on the down stroke so that the work would be the same size on the under side as laid out on top, with proper allowance for finishing under planes on the bench.
The apprentice was kept at this kind of work until he became thoroughly familiar with the proper handling and care of saws. All the different parts of sashes, doors, etc., were sawed out in this way and it was very important work for the boy to learn.
After this stage the apprentice was promoted to the finer kind of bench work and taught how to plane up the different parts of sashes, doors, etc., and by degrees initiated into the mystery of “laying out” work preparatory to the mortising and tenoning process. The latter was all done by hand, machine made doors and sashes being unknown and builders could not buy such things ready made.
Sash making was a delicate job and required great care, not only in “laying out” but throughout the entire process. The regular form of the bars being what was called gothic, Fig. 4. required them to be carefully mitered where the bars came together—bars made with a square edge on front, Fig. 5, as commonly made now do not require such careful handling.
Another piece of fine work was the architraves for doors and windows. Such parts are now called “trim” and are made in a multitude of forms which in old times would have been considered somewhat barbarous, not to say “cheap and nasty.” A common form of trim nowadays is a square block at each corner with molding “butted” in between as in Fig. 6. The old-fashioned form—rarely seen now— had some pretension to architectural beauty, and owing to its section, made mitering at the corners a necessity.
The foundation for the architrave was a facie board and a molding strip, both accurately planed to width and thickness to suit the section required. The molding strip was glued to the facie, nails not being allowed as they would endanger the molding planes used in forming the ornamented part of the architrave, the construction being something like the sketch, Fig. 7. This is only a rough sketch, but it can be easily seen that every part of the finished face must be exactly true to get a perfect miter at the corners over the doors and windows.
I doubt if any such work is put into buildings in these get-rich-quick days, when builders put on as little labor as they possibly can so that it looks nice and they get well paid for it. These days may be called the “age of shams” for any house owner will tell you of the constant struggle to keep a modern building in a state of decent repair.
A boy was seldom sent out to work on a building until he had worked in the shop for about four years. Then he began to take lessons in the erection of buildings, the walls being of brick or stone. He was then taught how to frame the floor joists around the chimney breasts and for the stairways and to lay the joists perfectly level on the walls, after the masons had built them to the proper height for the first story, and so on as high as the building was to go. After that came framing the roof timbers—sometimes quite an intricate job.
After the building was erected—roof on and slated—no flat tin roofs—the floor boards were laid down, door and window casings fixed and the building prepared for the first coat of plaster. When that was on and dry, along came the finishing work and the apprentice was taught to adjust all the fine inside work, including inside box shutters for the windows, which were all the fashion at that time. The doors and sashes, which the apprentice had helped to make in the shop, had to be fitted to their frames and the doors carefully hung so they would not be hinge bound or otherwise defective.
Not until the sixth or seventh year did the apprentice know anything about stair building except in a general way, as he was now supposed to be able to take a hand in all kinds of work requiring skilled labor. Stair building was not considered a separate branch of the joinery trade, although usually one or two men in the shop were considered experts at that kind of work and competent to take full charge of finishing the staircase after the floors were laid.
Mechanics fifty or sixty years ago, although they might be skilled workmen, did not take much stock in what they called “book-learning,” believing that practice only makes perfect, but the man who had charge of the stair building in our shop was cast in a different mold. He was an old Welshman and a great student of all kinds of abstruse learning, being well up in mathematics and geometry. He was something of a linguist too, but that might go without saying, for anyone who understands the Welsh lingo should be able to manage any language, dead or alive.
The old man was somewhat cranky, hut he was a splendid workman, and boys were fortunate when they were assigned to him to help on stair-building, for like all the work at that time every part was done by hand. The old man knew all about it from A to Z, and would decide the proper width for the steps and the proper height for the risers and also the pattern for the fancy brackets mitered onto the ends of the risers, something you rarely see nowadays.
The hand rails were, as a rule, of mahogany and templets had to be made for the curves around the “wells” and the curve to finish at the bottom step. The riser of the bottom step was also curved to match the curve of the rail, the rail being supported by an iron rod screwed into the middle of the block forming the curved end of the bottom riser.
The section of the hand rail being settled, a mahogany plank of suitable thickness was selected, the templets applied and the curved pieces sawed out by hand with a jig saw to be afterwards finished to the exact section and form required as in Fig. 8. In a first-class building the staircase, when completed, was the handsomest work in it and required the greatest amount of skilled labor. If an apprentice could accomplish that kind of work his seven years’ training was considered as completed.
A peculiar phase of the joiner’s work and which was common at that time was the making of coffins. Ready-made coffins and caskets were then unknown.
On the occasion of a death in any family a joiner was sent for and he measured the body. Then he returned to the shop, selected oak for the purpose and made the coffin, which usually was finished with a wax polish. The joiner then carried the coffin—a trip commonly made at night—to the house of mourning and performed all the duties of an undertaker, even to the point of going to the grave with the corpse. I was called upon many times to make coffins and act as an undertaker.
Two curious items I remember in this connection are the facts that women then did not attend funerals—a custom that still prevails in some parts of England—and the peculiar shapes of some of the coffins. In Manchester at that time a style known as the “fish tail”, Fig. 10, was in use, while in Liverpool the shape, Fig. 9, which is still associated in our minds with the word coffin was in use.
A little later “coffin shops,'” where ready-made coffins and caskets were kept in stock, were established and this was considered a very enterprising innovation.
Edwin W. Foster
Wood Craft – October, 1905