Many Echo readers, who left school in the 1960s, began work as an apprentice. They trained with an employer for a set period, usually five years, while they learned the skills of their chosen trade. Over a third of male school leavers became apprentices in the 1960s.

Since the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship was the established means in England of transferring skills from one generation to the next regulated by local trade guilds. During the reign of Elizabeth I, a structured national scheme was introduced following the Statute of Artificers Act in 1563. This placed restrictions and limitations on who could be an apprentice for certain occupations and forbade anyone in future to exercise any “arte, mystery or manuell occupacion now in use” unless they had been apprenticed to it for at least seven years. Apprentices had to be enrolled in a local register of apprentices. In Southampton, new apprentices were registered with the Town Clerk and a 12-penny fee was paid. Some of these registers survive and are held in the City Archives.

An apprenticeship usually began at age fourteen when the apprentice went to live with the master which was not always a happy arrangement. The apprentice’s family often made a payment to the master who undertook to provide clothing and lodging. On completion of their apprenticeship, apprentices were often presented with the tools necessary for their trade. The practice of the apprentice living with the master slowly ended with the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing moved to factories.

Daily Echo: The former Technical College now City College.

It was in 1802 that that the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act stipulated that apprentices should be taught reading, writing and arithmetic as only about 50 per cent of boys and girls could read. It was in 1880 that compulsory education was introduced and then only for 5 to 10-year-olds.

The need for educated apprentices and workers led to the formation of Mechanics’ Institutes funded by local industrialists to provide part-time technical education for working people. The Southampton Mechanics’ Institute opened in 1830 at 30 Hanover Buildings and included a library with daily newspapers and a lecture room for weekly talks on a wide range of topics. The Mechanics’ Institute was renamed the Polytechnic in 1842 and continued to meet in Hanover Buildings although high attendance at some talks meant they were held at the Hartley Institution. The well-known local polymath Philip Brannon was a regular speaker.

The Hartley institution opened in October 1862 in Southampton’s High Street and was the legacy of Henry Robinson Hartley. It contained a library, museum, reading room, lecture hall and classrooms. This was to become the University College of Southampton whose programme of evening classes provided part-time further education for engineers and construction workers. In the early 1900s they awarded certificates in engineering science, drawing, workshop processes, mechanics, boiler making, naval architecture, building, carpentry and joinery.

Daily Echo: Learning to weld at the Technical College.

The period between 1938 and 1963 was one of great expansion for technical education when part-time attendance nationally went from 51,000 to 644,000. In Southampton in the mid-1960s the College of Technology and Technical College provided a wide range of part-time vocational linked courses from basic craft skills through to Higher National Certificates and Diplomas.

In 1964 Industrial Training Boards were introduced, funded through levies and grants to promote skills and vocational training. Training centres provided initial skills training followed by planned training at work and day release at a local Technical College.

Many Southampton companies established their training centres while smaller companies collectively funded training facilities such as the Southampton Engineering Training Association training centre in Millbrook. Apprenticeships were also available in many occupations other than engineering including construction trades and service industries.

Many of the Echo’s readers who became apprentices in the 1960s and 1970s will have had fulfilling careers, learning skills that could be transferred to other employment opportunities. For many the apprenticeship was the first rung on a career ladder that some climbed to higher technical qualifications, management or their own businesses.

Daily Echo: SeeSouthampton logo. Image: Echo

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