Apprenticeships 1876-1912: Harland & Wolff & R & H Stephenson

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Joseph Bell, aged 15 began his apprenticeship in 1876 with R & H Stephenson & Co, Shipyard, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne as an ‘engine fitter at works apprentice’. He completed his apprenticeship in 1881, aged 20.

Amongst the conditions of indenture were, not to damage or waste materials or goods belonging to his employers, neither was fornication, getting married, playing cards, dice, or any other unlawful games were not allowed. Beyond the pale were visits to taverns, alehouses or playhouses.

The first year apprentices were paid 8 shillings a week with an annual increase of 2 shillings if they had been diligent and until the five years indenture was completed. Lastly there was to be no liquor or smoking on the premises – it was pretty tough going for ten bob a week I think.

Thirty-one years later in 1912, Francis [Frank] Bell followed in his father’s footsteps by joining Harland & Wolff, probably as a premium apprentice. Being a premium apprentice would be as a ‘shipyard pupil’. Frank’s father. Joseph, would have made a payment to Harland & Wolff for Frank to be indentured by them.

Thomas Andrews, the Titanic naval architect, who was aged 16 on the 1st of May 1889, began his premium apprenticeship at the Harland Wolff shipyard. This was the period of huge ships construction by the White Star Line for their Atlantic service. As a sixteen year old, the change from school and home to the exacting discipline of the shipyard must have been hard. Living in Belfast, he would have been awakened at ten minutes to five and had to be in the shipyard promptly at six o’clock.

The first three months would be spent in the joiner’s shop, followed by a month in the Cabinetmakers, there then would be two months or so working in the ships followed by two months in the main store; then five with the Shipwrights, two in the Moulding loft, two with the Painters, eight with the iron Shipwrights, six with the fitters, three with the Pattern-makers, eight with the Smiths. Finally a period of eighteen months to be spent in the Drawing office completed his five years as an apprentice in 1894.

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