A Careers Guide for the Eighteenth-century

In 1761, Joseph Collyer developed a careers guide for parents including information about the requirements for being an apprentice. He stressed the importance of good education of course, but it also began with a ‘how to’ guide for new parents describing how the mother should establish a moral code for children and ensuring that they behaved well from infancy, including discipline. Mothers should take care not to create groundless fears in the child, such as making the child afraid of the dark, telling him idle tales of ghosts, hobgoblins and haunted houses. She should instil the principles of religion and virtue. She should help shape not only their bodies but their minds too. The book offers guidance on many trades, so here are a just a few of them with more to follow in future articles.

The first three occupations that Collyer considers are Divinity, Law and Physic.

In a nutshell, if the child is likely to be easily led into drink, women and other vices then divinity would not be the right careers path and law would be a much better option as people are more forgiving of these vices.  They would need to be fluent in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. To study ethics and moral philosophy and to apply himself to the Holy Scriptures and be good at public speaking in order to deliver sermons.

The Country Vicar's Fire Side.
The Country Vicar’s Fire Side. © The Trustees of the British Museum

To enter the legal profession a boy would need to have a quick understanding.  A lively wit and volubility of speech. He should have a great command of temper and a sincere love of justice. They must learn languages and read the works of great orators. Upon leaving university he must enter one of the four Inns and apply himself to the laws of the country.

Mr Bannister Junior and Mr Parsons as Scout and Sheepface in 'The Village Lawyer' by Samuel de Wilde (Scout the lawyer on the left)
Mr Bannister Junior and Mr Parsons as Scout and Sheepface in ‘The Village Lawyer’ by Samuel de Wilde (Scout the lawyer on the left); Leicester Arts and Museums Service

The physician – the youth intended for the study of physic ought also to have an extensive genius, particularly clear perception, a found judgment and a retentive memory. He should have the liberal education of a gentleman. He should have a tender compassion for his fellow creatures.  Well versed in the dead languages, skilled in natural philosophy, anatomy, botany, pharmacy and chemistry. A periwig is essential headgear for a doctor as it imparts an air of gravitas and his patients will trust him more than wearing any other type of wig.

A Physician in His Study, Writing a Prescription for His Waiting Patient by Pieter Jacob Horemans, 1745
(c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Collyer moved on to the other trades rather than professions and outlined various occupations and what a master would expect to be paid for training their new apprentice. For most apprentices, the amount paid was between five and ten pounds.  The book runs to well over two hundred pages, so far too many occupations for us to cover in this post so it may be one we will return to if people find it of interest.

Anvil Smith

A boy designed for this trade needs only a basic education, with no great mental abilities being required. The art of his trade is learnt by feeling the tempering of the steel. However, it requires a good deal of strength. It is a very profitable business for the master.

A blacksmith at his anvil
A blacksmith at his anvil. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The baker

The boy, designed for this useful trade, ought to be of an honest disposition, and both strong and industrious; since the apprentices in London are obliged to carry out great loads of bread by day and to work had most of the night. The money given with an apprentice is from 5 pounds to 20 pounds. The journeymen have 6 or 7 pounds a week and their board, and a master cannot well set up with less than 100 pounds considering he is obliged to give credit.

Baker's boy, 1746.
Baker’s boy, 1746. Met Museum

Catgut spinner

A cat-gut spinner is a necessary article in several trades; in the making of whips, the stringing of violins etc. But yet, cat-gut spinning is a very mean, nasty and stinking trade, that requires no genius or abilities. None but the poorest children are put apprentice to it, and when out of their time, they are able to earn only very mean support.

Catgut makers: various stages in the process of catgut making and instruments used. Etching by Antonio Baratti.
Catgut makers: various stages in the process of catgut making and instruments used. Etching by Antonio Baratti. Wellcome Library

Drapery painter

The boy designed for this business, which is the lowest degree of liberal painter, ought to learn to draw and to form a just knowledge of the nature of light and shade; and this may serve as a sufficient preparatory for his being put apprentice; when, if he be bound to a proper master, he will learn, though he has no very extraordinary genius, to obtain a tolerable notion of painting in general, a sufficient knowledge of colours, and the manner of mixing them. To exhibit the folds of a garment in such a manner as to show the materials of which it is composed, whether woollen, linen, silk or velvet.

Though this business does not require a very great genius, yet those who are eminent in their way and employed by a celebrated limner (portrait painter), may frequently earn a guinea a day.

Joseph Van Aken, The Drapery Painter by Thomas Hudson. (Writing in 1743 George Vertue observed in one of his notebooks that the most skilled living drapery painter was Joseph Van Aken.)
Joseph Van Aken, The Drapery Painter by Thomas Hudson. Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd. (Writing in 1743 George Vertue observed in one of his notebooks that the most skilled living drapery painter was Joseph Van Aken.)

Fan Stick Maker

This is a business for weakly boys. Fan stick makers are employed by those who keep a fan shop and make sticks of ivory, tortoiseshell, wood etc. Many fans now are brought ready mounted from the East Indies and sold here extremely cheaply and have almost ruined this branch of the business.

Fan depicting the gardens of Chiswick Villa, 1757.
Fan depicting the gardens of Chiswick Villa, 1757. Met Museum

Iron Hoop Maker

This is a class of Smith solely employed in making iron hoops for large vessels belonging to the brewers and distillers. It is a laborious, noisy and requires no extraordinary abilities.

Beaufoy's Vinegar Works, Cuper's Gardens, Lambeth by Charles Tomkins, c.1800.
Beaufoy’s Vinegar Works, Cuper’s Gardens, Lambeth by Charles Tomkins, c.1800.

Muffin Maker

This business has but of late years been carried on in shops, but they are now pretty numerous. The muffins are cakes made of white flour and used at the tea-table. It is a tolerable business for a master; though a poor one for a journeyman. They take poor lads from the parish or others with no money; who the first part of their time cry the muffins through the streets early in the morning, and again in the afternoon; and also work hard when they are making these cakes.

London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby, c.1759.
London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby, c.1759. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Patten Makers

These keep shops and make wooden clogs as well as pattens. It is an easy light business and requires few talents, and very little learning is necessary. It is enough, if the boy designed for it, can write a plain hand and understands the first rules of arithmetic. When he has completed his apprenticeship, he may earn twelve pounds a week.

Piety in Pattens or Timbertoe on Tiptoe
Piety in Pattens or Timbertoe on Tiptoe. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Screen Maker

The boy, who is designed for this business, would do well to learn to draw and to obtain some knowledge in perspective before he becomes an apprentice.  There is great variety in this piece of furniture, serving both for ornament and use; and therefore, there is some room for a boy of genius to exert his talents. The master, who are but few in number, generally keep handsome shops. The make their own frames, which they mount with gilt or painted leather etc and the sometimes deal also in cabinet and chair makers goods. They take about twenty pounds with an apprentice and if they keep a genteel shop, employ several hundred pounds in trade.

Screen depicting Hunting, Cock-Fighting, Card-Playing, Horse-Riding, Game-Shooting, Dice-Throwing, Fishing and Bathing by an unknown artist, 1746.
Screen depicting Hunting, Cock-Fighting, Card-Playing, Horse-Riding, Game-Shooting, Dice-Throwing, Fishing and Bathing by an unknown artist, 1746. Victorian and Albert Museum

Tire Smith

His is an ingenious branch of the Smith’s business, consisting of making ironwork belonging to the carriages, coaches and chaises. The nicest and most curious part of their work are springs for the spring coaches and other vehicles of pleasure. There is great variety in this business.

English coaches and carriages from Le Costume Historique.
English coaches and carriages from Le Costume Historique.

In a later article, we’ll share some of the jobs available to women.

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6 thoughts on “A Careers Guide for the Eighteenth-century

    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you so much. We haven’t looked any further into the Isherwood family, so I’m afraid we’ve no idea whether there’s any connection, perhaps one for someone from that family line to follow up 🙂

      Like

  1. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 7) | www.weyerman.nl

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