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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter XII. The Guilds and the Church


Gilds there were when Greece was mistress of the world. In the middle ages all sorts were in great vogue—religious, social, commercial. The commercial at first included both maker and vendor. In Scotland the Merchant gilds have always been at daggers drawn with the Craft gilds, and tlie object of each, whether merchant or craft, was ever to “keep their ain fish guts for their ain sea maws.” Universal thanksgiving was offered up in 1833 for what was thought to be the final overthrow of the privileged merchant and trade societies in the burghs, yet their modern representatives, more widely diffused—.syndicates and trade unions—seem a greater menace than ever to freedom of trade and freedom of service.

It is interesting to know that James V., who built our first piers and gave our first Royal Charter, and whose portrait in armour, Speed informs us, was the original Burgh Seal, took the part of the crafts as against the merchants in 1580, and restored their power to fix their own prices by deacons chosen by themselves; and, what was more fatal to the merchants, to sell their own manufactures if necessary. In 1555 Queen Mary advanced on this by giving the deacons the right to vote in the election of the burgh officials.*

In Burntisland, early in the 17th century, the following bodies were permitted to have each a fund or “box” to bear the expense of prosecuting before the Magistrates those of their own class who did not contribute to their funds -The Merchants, or Guildry (traders, shopkeepers, or shippers), the Pryme Gilt (shipmasters and seamen), the Hammermen (smiths, masons, and coupers) the Wrights, Tailors, Weavers, Shoemakers, Makers, Fleshers, Hirers, and Maltmen.

This right to kill competition—‘‘the life of trade”--within the Burgh was granted on condition that each Society supported its own poor."

Only twice a year were outsiders (unfreemen) allowed to sell manufactured goods to the towns-, folk, and then only on payment of the fixed dues or customs. These periods, extending' to a week each, began on the feasts of St Peter, July 10th, and St John. The first is still observed in the guise of the annual fair, but for the last three years on the wrong date. Speed says the origin of these dues can be traced to fines imposed by the clergy for breaking the religious character of the feasts by trading. On three days a week, however, perishable commodities—beef, bread, and country produce—were allowed into the town on payment of dues, and sold only at the price fixed by the burgh officials, and only at the market-place, which was the Cross. As long as it did not interfere with their own trade, there were many eager to obtain the bargains of the unfreeman or blackleg, who could sell cheaper than the burgesses, not having their burdens, and in spite of the dues, if he could offer his goods privately at his customer's door. This was illegal. A baker fiercely resented bakers coming into the town and selling bread from door to door, where the prices could not be publicly acknowledged; but if some mutton was brought to him in this way, he changed his tune. Monopoly was not always maintained, however, even in the Courts In 1780 a weaver from the Ivirkton, discovered smuggling in a web of cloth, was heavily fined, and the cloth confiscated; but, on appeal to a higher Court, the fine and (doth had to be re-"turned. But the weavers were in a position legally giving them more chance of success in appeals than other outside tradesmen.

The proper entrance to the town for trading purposes in 1630 was by the East Port, which was erected then. Speed refers to the north and south ports, I have not seen these in the records, but North gate, South gate, Mid gate often occur— meaning, apparently, not an entrance but a street or thoroughfare. The East Port was demolished in 1843, and its extension marked by two inelegant pillars, now moved to the entrance to the Links. The illustration was constructed by me from descriptions of Mr Gibson Thomson, Mr James Morrison, Miss Dick, Miss Kelly, Mr Thomas Millar—all decaeased, and all over 90 years of age —Mrs M‘Omish and Mrs Williamson. Miss Kelly owned the houses on the left, and made a drawing of them for me. Mr Millar made me a rough drawing of the gateway, which corresponded with all I knew. The picture was shown to Mrs McOmish and Mrs Williamson, who both recognised it. The top of the wall was covered in early summer with “Kobertiwylies”—wild wallflower— just as the Castle wall is yet at that season. I. have myself seen the house on the right, and pait of the wall with the dead window, said to have been the place where the portion of Halkston's body sent to Burntisland was displayed. Halkslon of Ruthiilet was one of the nine Covenanters who murdered Archbishop Sharp. he was executed


The East Port about 1810,

11th July, .1080, head fixed on the Netherbow, one of his “quarters” sent to St Andrews, one to Glasgow, one to Leith, and the fourth to Burntisland'. The gate, of two leaves, had long disappeared. In early days it was opened at 4 a.m. and shut at 7 p.m. by the town’s officers, who beat, a drum up the High Street, or were accompanied by tlie town’s “pyper” or “violer.” The town’s violer or pyper had a free house and 10 merks annually, and the sole right to teach music or prj-vide it at marriages, dances, etc. The violer m 1079 complained to the Council that “violers bass and triple” came into the town and reduced Ins income. They were warned off. The foot-passengers moved down the centre of the street—“crown of the causeway”—which was made of flagstone about 4 feet wide. The grandfather of Mr .McNish used to relate that as a boy he played “hop, skip, and leap” over the joins in this pavement. The remainder between the gutters was cobbled (a small piece of this cobbling, with the gutter near the middle, remains in the Castle Venneil, while in front of the houses was a stretch of ground reserved for “middlings,” carts, cocks and hens.

The Council books are replete with complaints about unfreemen entering the town endeavouring to work at the trades, and enactments against them. Xo person could enter a craft without being a. burgess. As early as 1611 to become a “friman” or burgess cost “30 pund seottis” plus a banquet and to gain admission to one of the crafts' cost as much as “24 pund scots.” A burgess swore to be faithful to the Iiving, to defend the liberties of the Burgh, and assist the Magistrates in the execution of their duty. He had to be of good moral character, of the true religion,”’ to bear scot and lot, watch and ward, and be owner of a rood of bigget land. Sons and daughters of burgesses were free by birth; burgess women in exceptional circumstances, such as Cromwell’s siege, being called to watch and ward. Sons of burgesses on entering a craft were (barged only a nominal fee. In 1711 a new Act was passed imposing heavier penalties on unfreemen trading within the Burghs. Yet members of the trade societies were not free from blame. In 1668 a Captain Wemyss complained that a smith employed by him sent an unfreeman in his place, thus defrauding his fellow-craftsmeii. Both men were imprisoned during the “Baillies’ pleasure” A curious apology for smuggling appears in a petition to the Council by the “inhabitants” in 1726 “ against the Baxters for their bred, the Cordiners for their shoes, and the Fleshers for the insufficiencie of their fleshes.” The privileges of the freeman stimulated the arts, "but in time the general public suffered severely from the want of reasonable competition. Even as early as the beginning of the 17th century James VI. in his Doron writes:—“The craftsmen think we' should be contented with their work, how bad soever it be; and if in anything they to be couroled up goes the blue blanket.”

Though the eleven societies in Burntisland were recognised by tlie Council none were fully incorporated until 1683. After protracted litigation "Ye Counsell,” on 27th August of that year, '' all in ane voice ordaine Sealls of Cause to be granted to ye seven traids in ye Burgh . . . wrights, hauibennen, talyeours, baxters, cordiners, and wivers.” The Guildry, though the most important body—the Council being almost entirely drawn fiom it—was not fully incorporated until 1710, when it. was given the exclusive right of trading. (The Dean of Guild as late as 1833 levied annual fines on merchants who were not members of the Guildry.) But it was not till 1732 that the proportion of craftsmen on the Town Council was finally settled by arbitration. The Council was to consist as before of 21 persons, 14 belonging to the Guildry, including all the Magistrates, and one from each of the seven crafts.. The Prime Gilt, Hirers, and Maltmen were never incorporated.

All authority on ancient carved woodwork gives the style of carving on the galleries as Elizabethan. The west gallery, 39 ft. 7A in., contains lo panels, varying in width, and a section of one. The east gallery, 39 ft. 4 in., contains 10 panels, very various in width, one at the north end measuring only half the average width ; and the south gallery, 38 ft. 10 in., has 14 panels fairly uniform in width. The difference in width of the panels must have arisen partly from the galleries having been erected at the expense of the crafts at different times, and partly from the natural desire of each craft to make their panels end with the .sitting space allotted them. The pilasters dividing the panels have been gilded, as well as the heraldic ornaments above them, which had been on a green ground (of which most of the yellow had faded) as restored around panel 10 south side. At the time tlie pictures were painted over it was very generally regretted, and could not be forgotten, as many of them still projected, in certain lights, from the surface. Enquiries were made by me many years ago at Messrs Dott & Son' if "the pictures could be uncovered, and they said "they could; but it was only in 1907, when the columns and arches were re-chisled and the church re-decorated, under the direction of the eminent architect, Sir E. Rowand Anderson, U.S.A., and through the munificence mainly of Mr Thomas A. Wallace, then Town Clerk of Burntisland, that Messrs Moxon & Corphrae experimented with the sixth panel on the south side and demonstrated that the many coats of paint and varnish could be removed without endangering the picture underneath. The picture brought to light proved to be a naval battle, the principal vessel being Scottish, with the St Andrews Cross at the fore and the usual streamers waving from the yards. Over the mizzen-mast was a compass, and over the foremast a moon “decrescent.” Portions of the picture being absent, it was intended to hang it in the vestry, when I offered to fill in the parts awanting, so that it might be returned to its place. (The dulness of this panel gives an idea of the appearance of a number of the panels when found. Some were much less distinct and some quite fresh.) Thereafter Mr Wallace very kindly commissioned me to remove the paint from panel 8, east gallery, and restore it. I was successful in this, and since then other commissions have allowed of 24 panels being examined. Only six of these were blank—Nos. 11, 12, and 13 east gallery, 11 and 12 south, and 7 west gallery. Some of the pictures were so well preserved that they were merely re-touched. These were Nos. G and 9 south side, and 6, 7, 8, and 10 east side. The vermilion of the flags and streamers and nearly all the gold in Xo. 7, east side, is the actual gold and colour found. In many of the remaining panels, however, so much of the gilding and colour had disappeared that it had to be renewed. in doing this the original was not cleaned off, but is still there, with one exception, Xo. 9, east side, which was so split and worm-eaten that a fresh surface was imperative. But first a very careful transfer was taken and a study of the colour made.

In every case the original picture brought to light was seen by those interested in the work. The character of a number of them was quite unsuspected until the removal of the. paint, so that the process was highly exciting. There are still (December 1913) 22 panels uncovered, some of which ought to have pictures, as Mary Somerville describes the Baxters and the Weavers, neither of which was on the north gallery, now destroyed.

These pictures have no pretensions to being works of art. They are typical examples of the work done by a class of artist now extinct, but who were numerous in the days when it was fashionable for every shopkeeper or tradesman to hang a pictorial symbol of his calling over his premises.

Provost Speed in his notes writes that on the sides of the pillars were suitable texts for various occupations, with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed. When Mr Wallace offered to have the pillars restored it was hoped that on the removal of the layers of whiting and wallpapers,, simulating marble or granite, in which they were buried, the texts, etc., would be again brought to light, but nothing was found. It is probable that these texts were painted on tablets and hung on the pillars.


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