convicts History Re-enactment

Mountebank Doctors, Ladies of Easy Access and Runaway Apprentices

In June, we are travelling back in time to 1800. At Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, during Woolfest weekend, a small group of us are descending on Mr. Wordsworth’s neighbour, Mr. Fisher, and we hope to spin on the Great Wheel and knit, 1800-style.

There may be some undesirable beggars a-calling, as Miss Dorothy Wordsworth describes in her Grasmere Journal; and at some point during the weekend, I hear, a gentleman tourist to the Lakes will pay us a call.

Researching our costume, I have strolled through some 1790s’ newspapers. As I have a ragamuffin child to dress, I took a look at the clothing of runaway apprentices – lots of corduroy breeches, and striped shirts and waistcoats. In amongst it all, the usual distractions. Here are a few interesting stories I found on my travels, looking at runaway cordwainers’, wheelwrights’, builders’ and even a horse-master’s acrobatic, snuff addicted runaway apprentices. Enjoy!

A runaway apprentice is described in a paper of yesterday to be “a good tumbler, and can throw a great number of flipflaps; plays the clarinet, and takes snuff.”

General Evening Post (London, England), July 6, 1790 – July 8, 1790

WHEREAS Samuel Bell, apprentice to Mr.Astley, Riding-Master at Westminster Bridge, absented himself, on Sunday 21st of August last, and took with him his Master’s clothes, value 3-/ .The said Bell is about Five Feet Two Inches high, tolerably well made; dark brown Hair, the end of his nose being a little sore; takes snuff, had on  when he ran away, a mixed-green Coat; , Six white Buttons on each sleeve, new Striped Waistcoat, Green Thickset Breeches, and Round Hat.  He is supposed to be in company of some Mountebank Doctor, of the name of Oliver; or with one Ware, or perhaps a Person of the Name of Walwarth, (the Two last are Tumblers). The said Bell tumbles tolerably well, and dances a good Hornpipe.

Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), August 22, 1791 – August 24, 1791

…the defendant is not yet of age, but is in his 21st year. A few months since, he went in a post-chaise to Sydenham, accompanied by another young man; at this time he had eloped from the service of his uncle, a builder, to whom he was an apprentice. He had the appearance of a gentleman, and was provided by the plaintiff with breakfast, dinner, and supper, together with a bed, for a month, during which time he amused himself with hunting and shooting.  He was once during his stay visited by a Lady of easy access, who slept with him all night. It was stated that the plaintiff’s house was a reputable one; and it appeared that he was ignorant of the position in life of the defendant.
The defence to this action was, that the defendant being a runaway apprentice, the plaintiff could not recover this demand on the ground of its being for necessaries. … If innkeepers chose to give credit to unguarded youth, without making any enquiries into their position in life, they must abide by the consequences. .. Verdict for the defendant.
Whitehall Evening Post (1770) (London, England), May 31, 1798 – June 2, 1798

A curious reward was offered in an Exeter Paper of last week for the apprehension of a runaway apprentice from a Hair-Dresser at Plymouth. The advertisement concluded with these words, “Whoever gives information of him shall receive half a dozen of rusty razors for his trouble!”

Morning Herald (London, England), Wednesday, March 13, 1799

An advertised runaway apprentice is described in a morning paper, as having on when he went off, with other triplicates, “one pair of dark striped corduroy breeches, one pair of clouded nankeen ditto; and one pair of pepper and salt kerseymere ditto.” He is supposed to have gone over to the Dutch.*

Mirror of the Times (London, England), September 14, 1799 – September 21, 1799

* Apparently ‘Dutch’ was a byword for ‘mean’ or ‘stingy’.


2 replies on “Mountebank Doctors, Ladies of Easy Access and Runaway Apprentices”

Always enjoy your posts so much. My grandmother, born 1906 in Ohio, used “Dutch” with that meaning – maybe slightly gentler, to describe someone who was very frugal.


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