I’m reading George Painter’s biography of that sadly-neglected great Briton, William Caxton, the father of English printing. Caxton’s first career was as a mercer, a trader in fabrics, and he was sent to Bruges in 1444 while still an apprentice.
What a great foundation for Caxton’s later career, which saw him not only leading ‘the English community’ in Bruges as a successful merchant, but also the chance to discover the novel innovation of printing, and try his hand with the first book to be printed in English, before he returned to London.
Painter says that “the custom [I presume he means, ‘amongst the mercers’] was for the promising and ambitious apprentice to go overseas in his final years”. I wonder how many of our apprentices today get such an opportunity – and how many more would benefit if they got the chance.