There is a common assumption, probably derived from Dicken’s Oliver Twist who was taken from the workhouse to be indentured to an undertaker, that by definition parish apprentices were orphans. This was not always the case. In early 1829 Eli Wood of Uttoxeter, aged about 16, was bound to W. Appleby of St Mary’s parish Stafford. Uttoxeter’s parish overseers received a bill for the drawing up of the apprentice order, the indenture and the associated paperwork. Nothing more is heard of Eli Wood until the Uttoxeter overseer received an anonymous letter, dated 3 March 1830. The informant, who clearly knew something of the family and its history, told the overseer that Eli had had a work-related accident. He had been thrown off his master’s horse and although hurt, the injury was considered to be slight.
In the letter, written in a semi-literate hand, possibly in an attempt to disguise the author’s identity, we are told that Wood is apprenticed to a Mr R. Thorpe, a last-maker, not the Appleby named in the bill for the justice’s clerk’s fees. It could be that in the intervening year Appleby had died and that Wood’s apprenticeship had been transferred to Thorpe.
The letter continues: Wood’s parents had been in Stafford to see another son ‘woe I am informed is in gale’, and called upon Eli. Seeing Eli unwell they decided to take him back to their house in Pinfold Lane, Uttoxeter. The letter writer was of the opinion that any application made by Eli Wood or his parents to seek financial assistance from the Uttoxeter overseers as a result of the accident should be resisted. Signed ‘Well Wisher’, the clue as to the possible identity of the anonymous writer comes towards the end of the letter; Wood’s master had a great deal of work that needed to be completed and was in need of him. It seems likely that ‘Well Wisher’ was R. Thorpe who having invested time and money in Wood’s apprenticeship, now wanted to ensure that the errant Wood (who had effectively absconded) returned to his duties. So why be anonymous? Probably it was an attempt to ensure that upon Wood’s return, the master/apprentice relationship could be repaired.