Skip to 0 minutes and 16 secondsThis is Barton-upon-Humber, a small mediaeval village in northern Lincolnshire. The year is 1342 AD, and the local peasants are going about their daily chores. Among them is William Westoby, the second son of a peasant family who rent a small patch of farmland on the outskirts of the village. William is 14 years old, but has never been to school as his parents cannot afford to pay for classes. Instead, he spends most of his time helping out on the family plot-- weeding the garden, feeding the animals, herding their ducks, and taking their crops to the local market with his dad.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsAs William has an older brother, he will not inherit any money or land from his father. Instead, he will be sent away to begin an apprenticeship, a training programme designed to teach a young man the skills he needs to become a master craftsman and join a guild, allowing him to set up a business of his own. William's father has a relative who works as a stonemason in the nearby city of York, and has arranged for William to become his apprentice.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsIn the medieval period, boys began apprenticeships when they reached puberty and started to look and sound more mature than younger children. From studying their skeletons, we know that mediaeval children matured much slower than today, and boys were in their midteens before they started to show the visible signs of puberty. At 14, William has not quite reached this stage, but his father has decided that he's old enough to move to York and begin his apprenticeship.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 secondsThe city of York is very different from the village where William grew up. Here, the houses and shops are packed closely together, and the narrow streets are crowded with people, animals, and rubbish.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 secondsDuring his time as an apprentice, William will live in the house of his master along with the master's family, servants, and other apprentices. The terms of apprenticeships are very strict. Surviving legal contracts show that each apprentice was under the guardianship of the master for seven years. And during this time, they were forbidden from dancing and visiting an ale house, wearing elaborate clothing or wigs which cost more than 15 shillings, 335 pounds in today's money, growing their hair long, or getting married.

Skip to 3 minutes and 18 secondsDespite these restrictions, medieval letters and pamphlets suggest that apprentices gained a reputation for being rebellious and lazy. After work and on national holidays, they would gather together in public places to socialise and play games. Political leaders and members of the council, known as alderman, often took advantage of the apprentices' rebellious nature and would incite them to start fights and damage property. Court session papers showed that apprentices were often tried for public disorder offences.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 secondsAs a stonemason's apprentice, William travels all over York with his master to learn about construction at different building sites. When he gets older, he will be given more responsibility and will carry out the more intricate and specialised tasks.

Skip to 4 minutes and 21 secondsBut right now, he is expected to move materials across site and carry equipment for the older apprentices, a job which can be dangerous and physically demanding. Workplace injuries are common--

Skip to 4 minutes and 39 seconds[SCREAMING]

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds--and can even result in death.

Skip to 5 minutes and 5 secondsHundreds of years later, archaeologists will be able to study William's skeleton and use the information contained within his bones to retell his story.

Introducing William Westoby

Watch this cartoon about a fictional medieval boy named William Westoby who lived in a small village near the town of York.

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This video is from the free online course:

Archaeology: from Dig to Lab and Beyond

University of Reading