Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Counterparts and Crossed-out Prohibitions against Fornication; Or, Adventures in Indentures

September 26th, 2013

Anyone who has ever tried to read the fine print on a lease or an online click-through user agreement knows that contracts can at times be rather stultifying documents. Even in the early modern period, contracts used formulaic language that could be dry and impenetrable enough to put off all but the most dedicated reader. However the physical formats of these documents can be quite fascinating, especially to modern eyes.

An indenture is a legal contract between two or more parties which reflects an obligation or covenant between those parties. Common types of indentures include leases, bonds, apprenticeship agreements, and marriage agreements, to name a few.

Image of a lease indenture from the Kaye Family Estate Papers, 1639

Lease indenture between John Kaye of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639.  Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 111. Click image to enlarge.

The term “indenture” originally referred to the physical form of this contract. As a security and authentication measure, two or more copies of the deed would be written on the same piece of parchment (animal skin), usually head to head (i.e. with top of one copy facing the top of the other) and then the parchment would be cut in two in a wavy or zigzag pattern to produce the two copies of the contract. The authenticity of the indenture could then be validated by reuniting and matching its edges to those of its “counterpart.”

Image of an indenture and its counterpart matched along their serrated edges.

Indenture and counterpart matched along their scalloped edges. Lease between John Kaye, of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639. Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 110-111. Click image to enlarge.

In later years, it was not uncommon to see printed indentures–essentially “forms” in which the formulaic parts are printed and the particulars were added in manuscript.  Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection includes many printed apprenticeship indentures from the 19th century.  It is fascinating to see how the printed forms (still on parchment, mind you!) can be tailored to cover the specific details of a given agreement.  A common stipulation of such agreements was that the apprentice agree not to partake in a variety of activities that might negatively impact his Master or divert the apprentice’s attentions (“he shall not play at Cards, Dice, Tables, or any other unlawful Games…” nor “haunt Taverns or Playhouses, nor absent himself from his said Master’s Service Day or Night”).  In the case of the apprenticeship indenture of young Thomas Inkpen (who, based on his name, clearly missed his calling as a scrivener) to the tailor Dennis O’Leary (below), we can see that the prohibition against fornication or marriage has been struck out, leaving him free to marry during his seven-year term of apprenticeship. Indeed, this stipulation may have been omitted because Inkpen was already married or engaged. (It’s also interesting to note that Inkpen signs his own name, but O’Leary, the tailor to whom he will be apprenticed, signs only with his “mark.”)

Image of an apprenticeship indenture with fornication/marriage clause struck out, 1821.

Photograph of a detail from an apprenticeship indenture with clause prohibiting fornication/marriage struck out, 1821

Apprenticeship indenture of Thomas Inkpen to tailor Dennis O’Leary. February 28, 1821. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239:3818.  Click images to enlarge.

Female apprentices might also occasion the alteration of the printed part of the indenture, which most often assumed a male apprentice.  In the 1834 indenture of eleven year-old Rebecca Dale to  Richard Gray, a Tambour worker and Dressmaker, male pronouns on the printed part of the form have been crossed-out and replaced with female ones.

Image of an apprenticeship indenture form modified by hand for a female apprentice, 1834.

Detail from an apprenticeship indenture form with manuscript modifications for a female apprentice, 1834.

He to She and His to Her: Apprenticeship indenture for Rebecca Dale to Richard Gray, Tambour worker and Dress maker . December 13, 1834. English Historical Documents. Call Number: MS 239:3823. Click images to enlarge.

 Female apprentices soon became common enough that some printers left blanks on their forms to allow for the possibility.  Though the following 1842 indenture is for a boy, William Hicks, to be apprenticed to John Weekes, a Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier, the blanks permit it to accommodate a female apprentice with equal ease and even allow for a “Mistress” rather than a “Master.”

Image of apprenticeship indenture with blanks to accommodate both sexes, 1842

Image of a detail from a printed apprenticeship indenture with blanks to allow for either a master or mistress or a male or female apprentice

Fill in the blank: M(aster) or M(istress)? Indenture for William Hicks, Jr. to be apprenticed to John Weekes, Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier. November 28, 1842. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239: 3787.

Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection, comprising over 7000 English deeds and manorial, estate, probate and family documents dating roughly from 1200 to 1900, offers a rich resource for investigating the changing face of the indenture.  It also offers insight into two prominent English families, the Kayes of Yorkshire, and the North Family, whose illustrious members include Frederick North, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American War of Independence.   An online finding aid is currently in progress, but in the interim we encourage interested researchers to contact us with their queries.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
[With special thanks to Mary Ann Baker, processing archivist for the English Historical Documents collection, for locating and identifying the counterparts referred to in this post.]

Going Cross-Eyed: We Dare You to Read This!

September 28th, 2012

[…] I really must, in justice to Jane, apologise for her writing so short a letter—only two pages you see—hardly two—and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well. She often says, when the letter is first opened, ‘Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that chequer-work’ […]

-Miss Bates to Emma in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815)

In an earlier post about the visit of the NEH Seminar “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries” to the Spencer Research Library, I mentioned a manuscript format that would have been familiar to early 19th-century eyes, but which is likely quite alien to modern readers:  the crossed letter.  It is this type of letter that Jane Austen is alluding to in the above passage from Emma (1815).  A crossed letter is a letter in which the correspondent saved both stationary and postage by writing not only in one direction, but by turning the letter 90 degrees and then writing across the page perpendicularly.  The result is a letter that can be quite a challenge to read.  Just take a look at the letter below from Robert Ker Porter, a painter and diplomat, to his sister, the novelist Anna Maria Porter (click images to enlarge):

Image of the first page of a crossed letter (from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter)  Image of a Crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter, p. 2

The uncrossed portion of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter
Read if you dare:  A crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter.
4 April 1806. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 1, Folder 27.  Click images to enlarge.

Crossed letters began to decline in use after 1840 when the “Uniform Penny Post” was established in England, allowing letter-writers to send domestic mail at a rate of a penny per 1/2 once (thus the name “penny post”), regardless of distance, payable in advance by the sender.

An English etiquette book from 1901 warned sternly against the habit of crossing one’s letters, but recognized that in the past (as in the example from Jane Austen above), a crossed letter could be a sign of friendship and intimacy:

Crossing a letter is quite unpardonable. Stationery is cheap, postage is cheap; there is no reason for crossing lines.  There was a time when both postage and stationery were very expensive, and in those old days a crossed letter was actually regarded as a mark of friendship.

Some of them were crossed and recrossed! Dear friends filled every corner of the paper, and resented it if the replies were not equally indicative of regard.  But nowadays a crossed letter is by no means a mark of friendship. Very much the reverse!

-from Manners for Girls by Mrs. Humphry. London: T.F. Unwin, 1901, p. 61.

The anonymous author of Hints on Letter-Writing (1841), which came out roughly a year after the launch of the Uniform Penny Post,  advises readers,  “Should you ever be compelled thus to disfigure a letter [by crossing it], in mercy to your correspondent vary the colour of the ink.”

Below is the first page of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister and mother. It is interesting to see that, in this case, he uses the black ink to write to his sister, the novelist Jane Porter, and red ink to write (on the same sheet) to his mother.

Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 1821  Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 14, 15, 26, 1821. Rotated 90 degrees to facilitate reading the portion of the letter in red ink.

First page of a crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane Porter (in black) and his mother, Jane Blenkinsop Porter, (in red).  June 14, 15, 26th, 1821. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 2, Folder 2.  The second image is rotated 90 degrees to enable reading the portion of the letter written in red ink. Click images to enlarge.

Click on the images above to enlarge them and see whether you think the contrast in the color of the inks makes the letter easier to read.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian