England’s Apprenticeship, 1603-1763 by Charles Wilson

By Charles Wilson

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W. K. Hinton has contested the view that the Act was the concession to mercantile pressure in his The Eastland Trade and the Common Weal in the Seventeenth Century, 1959, pp. 90-4, 62 It is impossible to calculate how effective this first experiment in statutory control was. The remaining years of the Interregnum were economically abnormal and the evidence of its workings is meagre. But the latest historian to investigate it has suggested that its lawyerlike formula was too neat to be enforceable.

Its clockwork action worked singing birds, bells, trumpeters, suns, moons, planets, crowing cocks and striking clocks, besides the organ which played pieces in counterpoint on the hour. 1 Occasionally craftsmen could rise to a high pitch of excellence to produce exquisite pieces in gold, silver and jewels, rich sdks, damasks, tapestries and other trappings of aristocratic living. More often, late Tudor or Jacobean manufactures were crude and simple. They usually abandoned simplicity only at the risk of the vulgar ostentation characteristic of the great family tombs and ornate chimney-pieces of the great houses.

1 The scheme had all the plausible qualities of a seventeenth-century take-over bid. Technically it was premature; diplomatically it was disastrous. The dyeing and finishing of cloth was a highly skilled business and England could not then or for some time to come provide a competitive supply of skilled labour to fulfil the professed aims of the projectors. The Government then tried to put the clock back. The old Company got back its privileges. But even this did not end the troubles. Trade remained bad, and now the inbred monopolistic habits of the Merchant Adventurers came under fire — 'above three-fourths parts of all broad cloth transported, is driven [it was said] by less than forty persons'.

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