Thomas' Apprenticeship


Image: Line Etching of Oliver Cromwell Dissolving Parliament; Wikimedia Commons

My new home was near the center of the city, not too far from where my school had been. The streets were slightly wider here, and as I walked towards the smithy I noted that some of the buildings even had piping to allow for running water. The blacksmith had a large shop with a small store facing the street and a large smithy in the back of the structure. The smithy had pipes running throughout to provide running water and a huge furnace and bellows situated in the corner. My master’s name was John Baggins, and he and his family had quarters next door while myself and the two other apprentices slept in a loft above the smithy. It was always unbearably hot in the loft, and I spent the next twelve years treasuring every moment I had outside in the fresh, albeit smelly, air.

My family had never had much interaction with a blacksmith, normally most tradesmen come to them for tools or materials. They would forge arrowheads, sword blades, and other metals of warfare when the circumstances called for it. I spent my first year at the smithy maintaining the furnace and stoking it throughout the day. I would be up each morning at the crack of dawn to start the process, beads of sweat covering every surface of my body within minutes. Over the next four years I learned to use Troy weight and Haberdepoise weight, and the smith’s wife even taught me basic skills of reading so I could decipher orders. Eventually my responsibilities encompassed more than just the furnace, and when the oldest apprentice died of consumption I took on his role as a delivery person.

I spent the next few years refining my skills as a smith with one other apprentice who had been there longer than I had. One day we sent him out to collect money from a big order and he did not return that day or the next. Master Baggins assumed the worst and accepted his loss, grumbling the whole time about useless apprentices. Later that month he found three more young boys, the same age I was when I first started, and informed me that they were new apprentices and that I had to manage them. 

When I was not working the furnace or repairing tools I was sent throughout the East and West side to collect payment for work and to deliver smaller items, such as nails and horse shoes. As I walked through the West side one day I was in disbelief as to how many homes had adopted the piping systems for running water and sewage. It had completely transformed these narrow streets which years before had been covered in excrement and dirty water. I had grown a fair amount during my time as an apprentice, each day the grueling work of stoking the furnace and hammering tools built strong muscles on my upper body. As a boy of fifteen I towered over most people in the streets, especially burdened with my large sack of deliverables. As I passed the Themes and over into the East end I noticed a large crowd formed around a Puritan preacher. This was the first time I had been introduced to Puritanism, as my poor mother had never had the time to dabble in religious beliefs or instill them into her children. The ideas this preacher presented entranced me, and from that day there was always a doubt in my mind as to whether I was travelling the path of the righteous or unknowingly courting the devil.

London was in a state of war frenzy, Parliament had been fighting in a civil war for years that was going nowhere. Since the Long Parliament of 1640 nothing decisive had occurred, with Parliament strongly supported in the Midlands, Home Counties, and London. I didn’t know much of why the fighting was happening, but I had heard news of the Earl of Essex surrendering in Lostwithiel and of the Battle of Newbury in October of 1644. I loved receiving news of the war front and I followed all of the battle information closely. One day I acquired a printed broad sheet containing the words of Oliver Cromwell as he declared the need for a new type of army, an army of believers. I had never been very religious, my parents were of a Catholic background but did not truly practice. I had long talks with a Puritan friend concerning faith after first seeing Puritan preachers, and as I read the words of Oliver Cromwell I realized that the Puritan faith was the true word of God.   

Thomas' Apprenticeship