Family Lessons 101: Petyt's Apprentices

One of the old benefactors of the grammar school at which I taught was Silvester Petyt, after whom one of the houses is named. A local boy who had done well in the world, he was not slow to bless the district and school that had borne him. When he died in 1719 he left in excess of £30,000, much of which was spent on charitable causes. He stipulated that the money should be invested in land and the profits used for ‘…procurring poor children born and to be born within the Parish of Skipton and within the said Towns and Villages of Bolton Brigg [ie Bolton Abbey], Beamsley, Storiths, Hazlewood and Deerstones, or some of them, to read and write and to clothe and put out such of them Apprentices as they or the greater part of them for the time being shall from time to time think fit.’ Although this large fund was badly managed by its London-based trustees who failed to buy much land but always remembered to attend their annual trustees’ dinner, local boys and girls did derive benefit from the original spirit of generosity, among them, my ancestors.

For example, my 7th great uncle, William Guyer, was apprenticed in 1729 to Thomas Philip, a blacksmith, who received seven pounds to teach his trade. William Guyer’s father, my 8x great gramps, was paid seven pounds in 1731, to train Joshua Lockwood in the business of carpentry. It would also seem that family members received Mr Petyt’s money to train their own relatives. My 7x great-grandfather Joseph was trained in carpentry, not by his father, Thomas, but by one John Guyer, whom I presume to be a relation, but whose name I cannot find on my tree. Two decades later, my uncle Thomas Guyer taught carpentry to my cousin George (8 times removed). My Uncle William was a ‘whitesmith’ to whom Thomas Croft was apprenticed. He worked with either tin or iron and steel finishes, such as filing, lathing, burnishing or polishing. It was not just the boys who were taught useful trades. Hannah Guyer, whom I presume to be a relation, trained Mary, my 7x great aunt, to be a ‘mantua maker’, a mantua being a loose, lady's gown (that comma is important).

How much Mr Petyt’s cash really helped lubricate the business of teaching trades, I cannot say; fathers typically taught their own sons, but not those of others. Yet at Bolton Abbey, Beamsley and Addingham whereat my Guyer relatives lived, blacksmithery, whitesmithery, glassmaking, mantua making and carpentry were being passed from one generation to another- and all for seven pounds.

We in the church are sometimes too lethargic at training up and teaching a newer generation. Giving young men the opportunity to preach is important. Positions like deacon and trustee need not be the preserve of the aged and indisputably wise; churches run exclusively by old folk are usually on their way out. Between the years 1726-1755, for which accounts are available, Silvester Petyt’s bequest apprenticed 619 children to 78 trades, including 76 girls.

What skills and knowledge you have- pass them on.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6, NKJV

Picture: an oil painting I had made for the Sixth Form block, showing the school's benefactors, and Silvester Petyt on the far left, based on a contemporary likeness.