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Girls shine at the Freemen of Oxford Awards

The Oxfordshire Apprenticeships Team are delighted that two of our Apprenticeship Ambassadors have been awarded Freemen of Oxford Apprentice Awards this year. Our Apprentice Charlotte won the award for Business and Administration and fellow Ambassador Steph, Human Resources Apprentice at Oxford City Council, was named Apprentice of the Year.  The ceremony took place on Thursday 10th March at Oxford Town Hall and was attended by the Apprentices’ family, friends, employers and training providers.

Steph said: “It was completely unexpected to be awarded Apprentice of the Year but I am very thankful to have received it. I think it shows that the hard work you put in really does pay off and make it worthwhile. I also think it spreads awareness of Apprenticeships and shows what they can lead to.”

Awards were also made to Jade McGinnity of Lucy Electric for Electrical Engineering, Rebecca Pallot of BMW for Maintenance Engineering, Balint Oze of St Edwards School for Catering, Sasha Fraser of Oxford City Council for Horticulture and Cohen Scolio of ABC (Oxford) Ltd for Carpentry.

The awards were presented by Awards Secretary and Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council, John Sanders, who founded the Apprentice Awards nine years ago. John says: “One of the many remaining quirks of the Freemen is that the Lord Mayor each year can still appoint someone (known as a “childe”) as a new Freeman. That’s how I became a Freeman – both childe and husband of the then Lord Mayor. That’s when I suggested to my fellow Freemen that as we had a fine history of masters and Apprentices, building the City to its present architectural and business excellence, then we should encourage Apprenticeships in modern Oxford, too. And so the Freemen’s Apprenticeship Awards scheme was born.” 

“Interestingly, five of our nine most outstanding Apprentices over the years have been young women, including this year’s Apprentice of the year, Stephanie Rockett.  Steph and Charlotte are also Apprenticeship Ambassadors and it is wonderful to see these ambassadors encouraging other young people to take up Apprenticeships. Jade McGinnity’s award is a real accolade for the first woman Engineering Apprentice at Lucy Electric. We were also pleased to make an award for Maintenance Engineering to Rebecca Pallot at BMW, a company who have encouraged many young men and women to take up Apprenticeships in engineering.”

Who are the Freemen?

John explains: “The Freemen are a craft guild organisation, master craftsmen who can trace their history back to at least the battle of Ashdown in 871 when King Alfred gave them Port Meadow for their help in repelling Danish invaders. The Freemen were “free” men, i.e they controlled the town of Oxford – different to labourers who worked for the Barons as serfs.”

Until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, only a freeman could enter into business as a master or journeyman within the boundaries of Oxford city and only freemen could vote in City Council elections.

Why are Apprenticeships important to the Freemen?

In October 1551, the Council drew up The Order for the Admission of Freemen which set out the regulations for admission to the Gild Merchant (an association of craftsmen or merchants formed for mutual help and support) and thus obtaining freedom of the city. Until the 1835 Act, there were four main ways of becoming a Freeman of Oxford:

  • Buying freedom. The official price set down in 1551 was at least £5, but people were admitted for less. People who bought their freedom were supposed to be recommended by the craft that they wished to join, but this wasn’t always the case.
  • Being gifted freedom. When it was felt they would do honour to the town, gentlemen of note were given honorary freedoms.
  • Being the son of a freeman. The eldest son was admitted free of charge and all other sons could be admitted for a fee of 9s 6d. A son born before his father became a freeman had no claim, however.
  • Serving a seven-year Apprenticeship to a freeman carrying out his trade in Oxford.

About half the freemen obtained their freedom by completing an Apprenticeship and so gaining access to privileges in trading, elections and local taxes - so an Apprenticeship was a key route to status and success within the local business community.

This extract from ‘Thordre for the Admyssion of Fremen – 1551’ explains the requirement for an Apprentice to gain the freedom of Oxford city:

‘Item, that every prentyce servyng hys Master the hole terme of 7 yeres or more accordyng to hys covenants expressyd yn hys indentures, well and truly as a prentyce owght to do, shall at thend of the said terme be presentyd by hys Master and ij of thoccupacion that he ys of unto Master Mayar for the tyme beyng, or his depute, yn the Guyld hall att the court tyme, and the seyd prentyce there in the face of the court to be sworne and made fre of the guyld of the seyd Cytye, and to paye for the copye of hys fredom 4s and 6d forthwythe wythowt any further delay, as before ys seyd.’

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be an Apprentice in 1551, when the Order was written?

Apprenticeships were first developed in the later Middle Ages so that a master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labour in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in his craft. Apprentices usually started at between ten and fifteen years old and would live in the master craftsman's household for seven years, until completing their contract and becoming a master craftsman themselves. 

Legally binding documents called indentures were written and agreed, binding Apprentice and master. The master took responsibility for the Apprentice’s accommodation, training and welfare and the Apprentice agreed to a list of conditions about how he should behave outside his workplace, such as this extract below:

“He shall not haunt Taverns or Playhouses nor absent himself from his said master’s service day or night unlawfully. But in all things as a faithful Apprentice he shall behave himself towards his said Master and all his during the said Term and shall make himself generally useful to his said Master and obey all his command during the said term.”

This extract is taken from the 1862 indenture of a Plumbing Apprentice. The best records of Apprenticeship indentures are from 1710 and 1811, when stamp duty was payable on them. Very few records exist from before this time.

Interestingly, the first national Apprenticeship system of training was introduced in 1563 by the Statute of Artificers, in order to regulate and protect the Apprenticeship system. It forbade anyone from practising a trade or craft without first serving a seven year Apprenticeship to a master. It also included minimum standards, such as ruling that masters should have no more than three Apprentices.

So things have changed a lot since the first Apprentices became Freemen of Oxford all those years ago! Apprentices are no longer required to live with their masters for seven years and their free time is their own. Yet some things remain the same, like the value of Apprenticeships in developing the skilled workforce of the future.

The Freemen of Oxford Apprentice Awards bring the past and present together, celebrating both age old traditions and brand new developments. Congratulations to Steph, Charlotte and the other award winning Apprentices. What a great honour to be part of such a fantastic occasion and be given the opportunity to take a peep into the past.