Until the later nineteenth century many occupations that took apprentices were both makers and retailers of their products, especially in food and clothing, while others provided a personal service, such as hairdressers or apothecaries, selling goods only as a part of their income. Attorneys and surgeons sold advice and skill rather than goods; physicians, of course, did not have apprentices. At the lowest end of service occupations, children bound to domestic duties and chimney-sweeps also provided a service, although usually not of a personal kind. Of all the food trades, the baker’s was the most widespread and evenly distributed, and as his commodity was “so necessary for Life, he seldom wants Customers”. More prosperous and less common than tailors or shoemakers, since much bread was made at home, bakers’ apprentices were 14 or 15 before they were bound, since the “great Burthens they are obliged to carry out in serving their Customers requires more Strength than is ordinarily to be met with in younger Years”.1 Francis Place’s father was a baker, “strong for his height”, who could carry two sacks of flour weighing five hundredweight at the same time.2 As a trade, most bakers’ apprentices served a seven-year term; Campbell suggested a £5 to £20 premium,3 exemplified in Birmingham in the years 1719-66 where 35 bakers apprenticed boys; all but 11 took premiums of £10 or more, similar to sums received by staymakers in the town. The relative prosperity of bakers’ apprentices can be seen in their parents’ occupations; in Coventry, a high proportion were farmers and yeomen. Some city bakers were in a large way of business to judge from the numbers of apprentices they took, thus John Lane of Bull Street, Birmingham, bound four boys during the years 1746-61 with whom he received premiums of £9 to £15; Lane, a Birmingham man, had himself been apprenticed to a master in the town in 1720 with a £15 premium.4 Thus in 1767 there were 49 bakers in Birmingham, 29 of whom were masters with 13 apprentices indentured to them5 and in
Coventry in 1828 5 of the 29 masters had apprentices, of whom one, George Eld, had nine boys bound between the years 1784 and 1805.6
Although the baker’s trade was untouched by fashion changes, fluctuations in corn prices greatly affected his profits and, in the years of poor harvests, high prices and food riots, far fewer apprentices were bound. Thus in October 1766, civil disorder in Coventry was reflected in only one baker’s apprentice being indentured and in another riot year, 1800, no boys at all were bound to the city’s bakers.7 It seems that bakers in small communities were less inclined to take apprentices; for example, in Melbourne (Derbys.) in 1696 the single baker had neither an apprentice indentured to him nor a servant or journeyman, only a wife and daughter as the rest of his household.8 At the same period in a London ward four of the bakers each had an apprentice and two had not.9 As well as the cost of setting up, Campbell noted that bakers were almost unique in the food trades in preferring credit to cash customers, but that they made amends for this by “making Dead Men” or “cutting double Strokes on their Tally”.10 Bakers seem to have made their greatest profit from the poor, who were the main purchasers of rolls and small loaves, over which there was no government control. Bakers were generally held in low public esteem because of their “tricks”, especially adulterating flour, giving short weight and profiting from poor people’s hunger in harvest failure.