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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part II. Chapter VI - Constitution of the Aberdeen Crafts


ABOUT 1520 it became common in the leading burghs in Scotland for the Magistrates to grant Seals of Cause to the different bodies of craftsmen. The power to form associations and elect deacons had already been conferred on the craftsmen by Act of Parliament and Royal Charters, but attached to that power was the condition that the deacons must be elected with consent of the Town Council or chief officer of the town. By this time most of the burghs had, such as it was, a regularly elected municipality or governing body, and, as the deacons were empowered to exercise judicial functions over the members of their own crafts, it became necessary to define their jurisdiction by means of charters granted by the aldermen, baillies, and communities. Under these local charters or Seals of Cause, the deacons were granted "full, plain, and free powers, express jurisdiction and authority to correct, punish, and amend all manner of crimes, trespasses, and faults of the said crafts, or committed by the brethren and servants of the said crafts (blood and debt excepted), with power to onlaw and amerciate the said trespassers and committers of the said crafts, &c." In short, the deacons of the crafts exercised full jurisdiction over all members, journeymen, servants, and apprentices, not only in matters relating to their handicrafts and privileges, but also in all matters affecting their conduct as citizens generally. Many of the criminal offences that are at present tried in the Burgh Police Court, such as breaches of the peace, drunkenness, assault, offensive and abusive language, &c., were all disposed of by the deacons. It was seldom necessary to impose fines. After a warning or first conviction the delinquent was threatened with the loss of his freedom and trading privileges, and this threat appears to have acted with a most wholesome effect. Second convictions, therefore, for any offence are rare; and, on the whole, the deacons seem to have performed their judicial functions with firmness and to some purpose.

In addition to granting Seals of Cause (For Seals of Cause, see chapters devoted to each Trade.) to individual crafts, the Council passed the following general enactment:-

23rd October, 1536.—The said day ye provost and consale ordains ye deacons of everie craft to serce, vesy, and seik all faltis of their neighbours of thair ain craftis, and whar thair beis ony faltis in thair craftis that thai correct and puniss ye same and cause it be mendit; and failzeing therof ye said deacons to be punished be ye bailyies therefra themselffs.—Council Register, vol. xv., p. 235.

Under these Seals of Cause the craftsmen were better able to guard and protect their special trading privileges, and to prevent encroachments by unfreemen and others who had not qualified themselves by becoming freemen and members of the crafts. So strictly were these monopolies maintained that it was impossible for a craftsman to carry on business on his own account within the burgh until he had become a freeman or free burgess. While merchants had to give evidence of their fitness to carry on business by showing that they were possessed of a certain amount of money or land, the craftsmen had to furnish satisfactory evidence of their "habilitie" to exercise their craft. In the first instance, therefore, a craftsman applied to the deacon of his own craft to be taken on trial of his qualifications, and if his fellow-craftsmen were satisfied that he was a proper person to be taken on trial, a petition was presented to the Magistrates and Town Council to the effect "that the petitioner, having learned the art and trade of a — is desirous of being admitted a Freeman of Craft of the —Trade of Aberdeen, and for that purpose is willing to be bound to actual residence, and to pay Scot and Lot, Watch and Ward, in common with the other inhabitants, according to his rank and station, but before being admitted it is necessary that his qualification be tried. May it therefore please your honours to remit to the Trade of Aberdeen to take trial of the petitioner's qualifications to be reported." This petition having been attested by the deacon, the magistrates remitted "to the Trade of Aberdeen to take trial of the petitioners qualifications to be reported." The Trade thereupon took him on trial, instructed him to make an essay or masterstick, which consisted of one or more articles according to the custom of the particular Trade, and, if found satisfactory, the applicant was again presented to the Magistrates and Town Council, when, after taking the oath of allegiance, he was "admitted and received a Free Burgess of the Burgh of Aberdeen, of his own craft only, with all the liberties and privileges thereto competent in virtue of the Decreet or Indenture passed between the Brethren of Guild and Craftsmen of the said Burgh, dated in July, one thousand five hundred and eighty-seven, for payment to the Common Good of said Burgh of and of five shillings Scots, to the Lord Provost, in a white purse, as use is; declaring always that by acceptance of said admission, the said becomes solemnly bound to discharge every civil duty incumbent by law on a true and faithful Burgess of the said Burgh. At which time he found caution in common form." The following is an example of how the admission of craftsmen was usually recorded :—

15th September, 1616.—The quhilk day George Pyiper and Alexander Andersone, wrichtis, compurand sufficientlie in armour, ilkane with an hagbute and bandeleire and sword, wes ressauit and admittit friemen of thair said craft and burgesses of this burght, ilk ane of tham for the soume of twentie merkis Scottis money, peyit be thame to the deane of gild, with this allwayis restrictioun and conditioun that they shall use and exerce thair said craft proffessit be them allanerlie, and clame nor pretend no forder libertie, preuilege nor freedome nor is sett doun and prescryuit to craftismen be the contract and indenture past betwixt the brethern of gild and thaim, in the yeir of God 1587 yearis; and incais they or any of tham do in the contrare, being convict thairoff, to be depryuit and dischargit of his friedom, and all libertie and preuilege they may joise and bruik thairby in any tyme thaireftir, and gaive thair aytheis judiciallie on the premissis and remanent poyntis of the aythe given be burgesses of this burght the tyme of thair admission ; lykas ilk ane of thame pay it fyive schillings in a quhyte pure according to the forme vsit and wount.—Council Register, vol. xl., p. 718.

As will be seen from the following entry in the Council Register, the Magistrates occasionally exercised their discretion of refusing to grant a remit, if they considered the character of the applicants unsatisfactory 27th February, 1729.—The Magistrates declined to grant a remit to an applicant until he had produced a certificate of his good behaviour from Glasgow whence he came last, but that they would grant the remit desired upon producing to them the said certificate.—Trades Hall Papers.

The following was the oath taken at the beginning of last century by merchant and craft burgesses when admitted to the freedom by the Town Council :—

Prior to the time when the Common Indenture or "Magna Charta" of the burgesses was entered into, no definite arrangements existed regarding the amount of composition which had to be paid by burgesses of trade to the Common Good. Craft burgesses, as well as the merchant burgesses, were liable to all stents or taxes that were imposed for keeping up "the common warkis of the toune," and for providing gifts to royalty when the town was honoured with their presence. And in addition to being liable for all necessary stents and taxes, the burgesses had also prior to the reformation, to provide for "upholding decoring, and repairing" an altar in the parish kirk. Under the Common Indenture a definite scale of composition was fixed, the eldest son of a craftsman being made free of the town for the bancate only; other sons had to pay forty shillings Scots additional; apprentices ten merks, and extraneans twenty merks, two-thirds of which was to be "wared and bestowed upon the aid, support, and common help of the town," and the other third " with the bancate to be bestowed at the pleasure of the deacon of the crafts and their brethren forsaid freemen of the craft." The bancate money, it may be explained, was a small sum exacted to provide "a common meal" on the occasion of an entrant being received into his craft. This is an ancient custom which has not yet died out.

Patrimony, it will be observed, has been a prominent characteristic in the constitution of the crafts. In becoming a freeman of his craft, a father not only acquired rights and privileges for himself, but his family were admitted to the same privileges at merely nominal rates, and, in many cases, under less strict conditions. The eldest son had always the preference, then the remaining sons; sons-in-law were also placed on the same level as sons. It is worthy of note that, in some of the Trades, a craftsman, on marrying the heiress of a burgess, was placed in the same favourable position as an eldest son—a remarkable proof of the value that was attached to this patrimonial element, and also affording a striking illustration of how the Guilds were based on the simple family compact. There can be no reasonable doubt that the Guilds took over this patrimonal characteristic from the family, the same principle that obtained in the family being adopted as far as possible in the wider and more extended combination of the Guild.

Alterations were frequently made on the rate of composition paid to the Common Good. In 1641 the Town Council ordained that every extranean should pay for his composition £100 Scots, and apprentices within the burgh £50 Scots each, besides appearing at the time of their admission completely armed with musket and sword, to be sworn to as their own property. In 1643 the amount was fixed at 200 merks for extraneans, and 100 merks for apprentices; and again in 1665 it was ordained that each extranean should pay 200 merks "with a pike, or £4 Scots therefor, for the use of the town's magazine." It is evident, however, from what appears in the Council Records, that the craftsmen not only demurred paying, but actually refused to pay, those increased compositions, and from 1681 down to 1815, when a compromise was effected, the composition actually paid by an extranean was about £40 Scots, and £24 Scots by apprentices, besides five shillings Scots for arms money. (This payment of arms money is still made in accordance with ancient custom. When a burgess appears before the Lord Provost and Town Council to receive his diploma or burgess ticket, he presents his lordship with a small white purse containing five ordinary pennies, five pennies of the present day being the equivalent of five shillings Scots. The arms money went to a fund for providing the town with weapons, ammunition, &c.) On 23rd September,1815, the rates of composition were fixed as follows:--

besides £1 3s. 0½d. for stamp, diploma, and remit. When special trading privileges were abolished in 1846, these high rates continued to be exacted in consideration that craft burgesses had still certain privileges remaining which were not enjoyed by ordinary citizens, such as a preferential right to the benefits of Robert Gordon's Hospital, exemption from the Bell and Petty Customs, &c. But gradually these disappeared or became of less value, and in 1872 the Trades appointed a committee to inquire into the subject and endeavour to obtain a reduction of the fees on account of the loss of the trading and other privileges. After a good deal of negotiation the rates were reduced to the following uniform rate :-

When the Bell and Petty Customs were abolished, and the preferential claim which burgesses of trade possessed to Robert Gordon's Hospital was reduced under the new Provisional Order, a claim was again made in 1882 for a further reduction of the burgess dues, and on the 10th March of that year a committee of the Incorporated Trades effected an arrangement under which the payment should be reduced to a uniform sum of a guinea, to include all fees.

(The report of the final settlement was in the following terms:—"Your committee, having been requested to attend a Conference at the Town House upon Tuesday, the 18th day of April current, met with the Law Committee of the Town Council, who were represented by Lord Provost Esslemont, Baillie Ross, Baillie Duff us, Mr. Paterson, and Mr. George Walker. The Lord Provost, having introduced the subject, stated at the outset that he did not want to lay stress upon the legal aspect of the question as he feared the niembers of the conference might not be able to agree on that score, both sides having doubtless considerable confidence in their own views, and, therefore, he would rather put it as a matter of loyalty and policy, or perhaps of sentiment, whether the connection which had so long existed between the Magistrates and Town Council on the one part and the Incorporated Trades on the other part should now be severed. His lordship frankly admitted that a substantial reduction of the amount presently exigible might be made with propriety, and he asked your committee whether, all things considered, we were prepared to agree to a uniform payment of £2 2s. for each entrant, this payment to include all fees which are presently exacted from entrants. Your convener, in reply, explained what was the position of your committee in this matter, and that we had attended more to learn on what grounds any payment by them should be continued than to consider the amount of such payment, but that, at the same time, we were prepared to report to the general body of the incorporations any suggestion which the Law Committee had to offer. He might, however, take It upon himself to say that there was not the least chance of a payment of £2 2s. being agreed to. The Lord Provost, having explained that neither party was expected at this Conference to bind their constituents but only to recommend what in their opinion might be a fair basis of compromise, a general conversation ensued, in which most of the members of the Conference took part, and ultimately, on the suggestion of the Lord Provost, it was unanimously agreed that both parties should recommend to their constituents that the payment should be reduced to the uniform sum of £1 1s., to include all fees; it being understood that the subject should not be again brought forward, but that upon this arrangement receiving the sanction of the Town Council and of the Incorporated Trades, the same shall become final and absolute, and be received as a permanent and lasting settlement of a long-vexed question. It being further understood that, when agreed to, this new arrangement shall date back to the 26th of October last, the date of the convener's letter to the Town Council, and that the guinea would be paid for all the craftsmen who have since that time joined the incorporations.—P. Raeburn, Convener; Ebenezer Bain, Jun., Master of Hospital; Andrew Robb; John Croll; James Mitchell; W Graham.—Trinity Hall, Aberdeen, 21st April, 1882.")

In early times the dues payable by a craftsman to his own craft were insignificant. It was only when the crafts began to accumulate funds for the benefit of widows and decayed members that the entry moneys were raised. For long the chief payments consisted of "quarter pennies," and dues paid by the members for every journeyman and apprentice they employed; but for some time previous to the abolition of trading privileges the quarter penny system was dropped, and a slump sum at entry substituted. The entry money has varied in the different Trades according to the benefits they were able to afford.

The office-bearers of a craft association have, since the earliest period of their history, consisted of a deacon, a box-master or treasurer, and several masters, usually four. These office-bearers are elected annually, and, as a rule, hold office for two years. The deacon has always been entrusted with a large amount of power. Every entrant has to render obedience to him and to 'tall the haill acts and ordinances of his court or convention;" and the records of the Trades contain numerous instances where deacons resorted to the extreme measure of committing recalcitrant members to the tolbooth for defying their authority; and also where the deacon in turn has been punished for non-fulfilment of or failure to perform his duties. The office-bearers are elected annually, and from time immemorial the election day has always closed with "a common meal." Previous to Dr. Guild's gift of the Trinities, the meetings of the crafts in Aberdeen were held in the houses of the deacons, or a public inn, the expenses incurred about an election time appearing in the accounts after the following fashion:—"At Deacon Currie's at dinner and to the fiddlers, £6 13s. 4d. Scots" (about 11s, sterling); "ane gallon of ale to the lads that day, £1 1s. 4d." (1s. 9d.); "opening the box, 10s. 8d." (10¾d.); "to the clerk for ale and other expenses, £1 3s. 4d." (1s. 1½d.). The boxinaster was, as a rule, restricted to a fixed sum annually for general expenses; and at times when there was dearth in the town the members were ordered to pay the expenses of the " common meal" out of their own pockets.

All journeymen and apprentices, although not members of the societies, were enrolled in the books of their own craft, while apprentices were entered in the books of the town as well as their craft, to enable them to claim the rights of an apprentice when they came to apply for their freedom. This registration of craftsmen has been useful in many ways. The books of the various Trades have been found valuable registers for tracing pedigrees,

(In tracing historic family names, the Trades Records have also been found useful. The following note was recently received from Mr. W. E. Gladstone in reply to a communication stating that a George Gladstaines, pewterer, had joined the Hammermen Trade In 1656, and gifted 300 merks to the Trades Hospital in 1698

"Dollis Hill, N.W., July 13, 1887.

Dear Sir,—I thank you very much for the information so kindly given.

"It is the first time that I have heard of the name of Gladstaines so far north. He was probably one planted out; but he seems to have been a man of substance.

"Your very faithful Servant,

"W. E. GLADSTONE.

"E. Bain, Esq.")

the patrimonial element having had the effect of inducing sons to follow the same occupation as their fathers. There is more than one citizen at present living who can trace his pedigree in the Trades Books to his great-great-great-grandfather, and from the minutes he can ascertain something about their position and standing in the town.

When we come to deal with the crafts separately, a description of the different kinds of essays or mastersticks which were prescribed for entrant craftsmen to test their ability to work will be given. After an essay has been prescribed, two essay masters and an oversman are appointed to visit the entrant and see him working at his essay, and if they have any suspicion that he is being assisted, they have power to lock him into a workshop while he is at work. An entrant is now frequently permitted to make some special article as his essay, which could be preserved as a memento of his entry into his craft. There are at least three of these in the Trades Hall at present, one a unique piece of weaver work by James Wilson, weaver; another, the arms of the Hammermen Trade, chased in brass by Mr. Robert Rettie; and a third, a beautifully finished and hooped quarter cask made by Mr. George Gorrod, and which is looked after by the Boxmaster of the Wright and Cooper Trade.


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