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Apprenticed labour in the English fishing industry, 1850-1914

Wilcox, Martin Howard


Martin Howard Wilcox


David J. (David John), 1954 Starkey


This thesis assesses the role of apprenticed labour in the growth and development of the English fishing industry between 1850 and 1914. Although apprenticeship is a well-known facet of the fisheries, writing on the subject has focused largely on the port of Grimsby, and on the abuses of the system that were widely publicised in the 1880s and 1890s. This study provides a national perspective, examining the institution of apprenticeship as a means of labour recruitment, training and control, and comparing apprenticeship in the fishing industry with the merchant shipping industry - where, despite the undoubted importance of apprenticed labour, very little research on the subject exists - and land-based industries, where apprenticeship offered similar advantages of training and control. It applies theories of apprenticeship developed with reference to industry ashore to explain the transformation of a classically paternalistic apprenticeship system into a means of recruiting, controlling and exploiting a large number of cheap labourers. A wide range of primary sources are used, including the Board of Trade archive and registers of apprentices, fishing vessel crew agreements, numerous Parliamentary enquiries and reports on the fishing industry and contemporary writings.

Apprenticeship was an established facet of the fishing industry in the ports of Devon, the Thames and Essex. Migrants from these ports established apprenticeship in places such as Hull, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth between the 1850s and 1870s. However, rapid growth in some of these new ports, especially on the Humber, led to a concentration of cheap labour. The resultant social problems gained the system a bad reputation and resulted in legislation to bring the system under control, which also increased the costs. However, by this time demographic shifts leading to greater availability of casual labour and technological change were beginning to undermine apprenticeship, which had all but died out by 1914.


Wilcox, M. H. (2005). Apprenticed labour in the English fishing industry, 1850-1914. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publication Date Sep 1, 2005
Deposit Date Feb 10, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull


Thesis (18.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2005 Wilcox, Martin Howard. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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