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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part I. Chapter IV - Craft Guilds in Scotland


In Scotland, Merchant and Craft Guilds sprang up and flourished for over four centuries to as great, if not indeed a greater, extent than in any part of Europe. The burgh and other records of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling, and other places, as well as the legislative enactments of the Scottish Parliament and the charters granted by successive sovereigns, afford abundant evidence of the important part they played in the civil, commercial, and industrial life of the burghs. Whether or not they sprang up spontaneously in Scotland or were introduced from the Continent or from England, it is impossible to say, although there is no doubt of the fact that at different periods in the early history- of the country considerable numbers of craftsmen were brought into Scotland from abroad. But it is at least clear that these associations found a congenial home among the Scottish people. All the early acts and ordinances extant of these associations bear remarkable evidence of the outstanding national characteristic, thrift; and although the primary object in forming the associations was the protection of trading privileges, the making of provision for old age, dependants, and for poor brethren has always been a prominent characteristic. The members helped each other in sickness, in poverty, in infirmity, and in preserving the morals of the community, and until quite recent times performed all the functions of provident and insurance societies, burial clubs, annuity associations, and such like organisations. And it is not going too far in the direction of self-laudation to say that in no country were the virtues of thrift and forethought in providing for the proverbial "rainy day" more marked than in Scotland; whilst it is an equal pleasure to record that among the burghs in Scotland there are none that exhibited these virtues in a greater degree than Aberdeen. This will appear later on when we come to deal with the financial position and progress of the Aberdeen Trades.

The Craft Associations in Scotland had, as can be readily understood, all a strong family likeness. Their privileges were almost identical; they had all the same battle to fight with the Merchant Burgesses in regard to their relative rights —Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth, and Stirling having all common indentures or agreements entered into about the same period after prolonged conflicts and legal contests; and each of the Crafts had a constitution and governing body as nearly alike as possible. A history of the development of the one is therefore very much a history of the others, and as the Aberdeen Crafts will be dealt with fully, it is not necessary to give anything but a brief general statement of the Crafts in a few of the leading towns.

In Edinburgh there are twelve Incorporated Trades (at one time there were fourteen)—namely, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Furriers, Hammermen, Masons, Tailors, Bakers, Fleshers, Cordiners, Weavers, Waulkers, and Bonnetmakers. In Glasgow there are fourteen Trades—Hammermen, Tailors, Cordiners, Maltmen, Weavers, Bakers, Skinners, Wrights, Coopers, Fleshers, Masons, Gardeners, Barbers, and Dyers and Bonnetmakers. A curious speculation has arisen about the number of the Crafts in each burgh, both in this country and on the Continent. In Edinburgh and Glasgow there were fourteen; in Aberdeen and Stirling seven; and it is conjectured that, in granting and confirming the deeds of incorporation, the authorities had prominently in their minds the scriptural number of seven, or a multiple thereof! The GIasgow Trades House or Convener Court is composed as follows:—The Hammermen, Tailors, and Cordiners, a Deacon and five assistants; Maltmen, their visitor and five assistants; Weavers, their Deacon and four assistants; Bonnetmakers and Dyers, their Deacon and one assistant; the Bakers, Skinners, and Wrights, Coopers, Fleshers, Masons, Gardeners, Barbers, each their Deacon and three assistants, being in all fifty-four in number. The office-bearers consist of a Deacon-Convener and collector. In 1852 the Trades House and Trades had a total revenue of £23,233 19s. 3d., their stock amounting to close upon £500,000.

In Stirling there are seven Incorporated Crafts, three "tolerated communities," and an "omninm gatherurn." The seven Crafts are—Hammermen, Weavers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Fleshers, Skinners, and Bakers; and the three tolerated communities - Maltmen, Mechanics, and Barbers. The "omnium gatherurm" is an association similar to the Aberdeen Pynors or Shore Porters. The total funds belonging to the Stirling Trades amount to between £3000 and £4000.

There are eight Incorporations in Perth—Hammermen, Glovers, Bakers, Shoemakers, Tailors, Fleshers, Wrights, Weavers. In few if any of the burgh councils were the Craftsmen so strongly represented as in Perth. By a resolution of the Convention of Burghs held in Edinburgh in 1658 the number of craftsmen in the Council was fixed at 13, the members of the Guildry in the Council remaining as before. This was the origin of the combination known as the "Beautiful Order " that ruled in the town till the Burgh Reform Act. There are neither Seals of Cause nor Charters in existence, and the Town Records before 1600 are reported to be illegible. The records of the Convener Court consist of only one book—the minute-book at present in use; and none of the Incorporations have documents of the early centuries of their history. According to the tradition of the Glovers they had a charter from William the Lion; and the Hammermen Incorporation, which ranks as the premier Incorporation, claims a no less ancient origin.

When King James VI. visited Perth in 1617, among the amusements provided for him were the "Sword Dance" by the Glovers, and the "Egyptian Dance" by the Bakers; and at the visit of Charles I. in 1633 the monarch was received with great honours—the Glovers and other trades taking part in the festivities. On that occasion the "Sword Dance" was again performed. The dancers, thirteen in number, dressed in green caps, silver strings, red ribbons, white shoes, with bells about the legs, schering rapiers in their hands, and all other abulziment, danced the "Sword Dance" with many difficult knotts and allafallajessa, five being under, and five above upon their shoulders; three of them dancing through their feet, drinking; of wine, and breaking of glasses among them, which "God be praised," says the old record, "was acted and (lid without hurt and skaith to any, which drew us to great charges and expenses, amounting to the sum of three hundred and fifty merks, yet not to be remembered because we was graciously accepted by our Sovereign and both estates to our honour and great commendation." When Queen Victoria visited Perth in 1842 a glover, dressed in one of the dresses that were worn in 1633, walked in the procession of the citizens with the cap on head and the bells jingling with every step. The Hammermen Incorporation include Goldsmiths, Sword Slippers, Saddlers, Blacksmiths, workers in the different metals, and Watchmakers. The Glovers and Skinners form one Incorporation, and the Wrights include Masons, Glaziers, Bookbinders, and Barbers.

In Dundee there are nine Trades incorporated, namely, Bakers, Shoemakers, Glovers, Tailors, Bonnetmakers, Fleshers, Hainmermen, Weavers, and Waulkers (Dyers). There is also an Incorporation of "The Three Trades," consisting of Wrights, Masons, and Slaters, but the Convener is elected by the Nine Trades. These form what is called the General Fund Court, but each trade has its own individual court for the management of its funds. The fees of admission to the General Fund are—£2 10s. for a member's son or son-in-law; and £10 for extraneans. The Convener is a member of the Harbour Board, and also sits at all the principal Trusts in the city. The Dundee Trades are not wealthy, the entry money into the individual Incorporations being trifling.

In the larger burghs in Scotland the Crafts continued to flourish under the altered condition of local government to a remarkable degree. They have now, it is true, changed their character, and a number of the associations have little accumulated stock; but they still perform many useful functions, and have a future before them in the direction of encouraging technical and secondary education among the industrial classes, which would still further extend their usefulness. Some of them are already moving in this direction; but there is abundant scope for greater exertions and development in this respect. There is an obvious lack in the present day of organised effort for the promotion of technical instruction among young craftsmen. When a lad leaves school to commence his apprenticeship he is to a very large extent left to his own resources, and allowed to pick up a knowledge of the scientific side of his trade as best he may. And in the hurry of production, comparatively little attention is paid to the training of the head as well as the hands—to giving the apprentice a knowledge of the technical and scientific part of his business as well as the purely mechanical. This gap must be filled, and there are no institutions so well fitted to undertake systematic effort in this direction as the craft associations which in the past made the proper training of apprentices one of their first duties. Writing recently on the necessity for a scientific organisation of our industries, which the changed conditions of the time render indispensible to their prosperity, Professor Huxley puts the case thus:—"I do not think I am far wrong in assuming that we are entering—indeed, have already entered—upon the most serious struggle for existence to which this country has ever been committed. The latter years of the century promise to see us embarked in an industrial war of far more serious import than the military wars of its opening years. On the East the most systematically instructed and best informed people in Europe are our competitors ; on the West an energetic offshoot of our own stock, grown larger than its parent, enters upon the struggle possessed of natural resources to which we can make no pretension, and with every prospect of soon possessing that cheap labour by which they may be effectually utilised." Here is a field large enough for all the spare energies and available means of all our craft associations throughout the country; and a rernembrance of what they owe to their forefathers in many respects ought to be a stimulus to their heirs and descendants to do more even than they are doing for the rising generation.


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