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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part III. Chapter I - Introductory


By what may be termed a natural process of selection, the craftsmen in Aberdeen came to be divided into seven separate guilds, Hammermen, Bakers, `'rights and Coopers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers, and Fleshers, each with its own deacon and office-bearers, and having at their head a deacon-convener and head court, consisting of the office-bearers of the individual Trades. These seven societies, however, embraced a number of separate and, to some extent, distinctive handicrafts. The Hammermen, for instance, have at one time or other included cutlers, pewterers, glovers, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, saddlers, armourers, hookmakers, glaziers, watchmakers, white-ironsmiths, and engineers; the Wrights and Coopers, cabinetmakers and wheelwrights; and the Tailors, upholsterers.

But the classes of craftsmen that associated under one deacon had always something in common. The Hammer-men were craftsmen with whom the use of the hammer was a leading feature, glovers in the olden times being makers of much more substantial articles than are used nowadays, while saddlers made the iron as well as the leather parts of harness; the Wrights and Coopers dealt in the same material; and the upholsterers were classed along with the Tailors, because they used the needle and thread.

In addition to these seven, however, separate societies were formed by the Litsters or Dyers, the Masons, and the Leechers (barber-surgeons), all of which elected their deacons, and possessed a constitution similar to the Seven Incorporated Trades. The litsters formed themselves into a society about as early as any other body of craftsmen in the town. In 1501 their deacon was presented to the Council to be sworn, and to have his election confirmed; but it does not appear that they ever applied for a Seal of Cause, as was done by the other crafts about this period. On the contrary, the dyers seem to have held aloof from the rest of the craftsmen, and at times claimed an equality with the merchant burgesses—an equality, however, which was never acknowledged either by the merchants or craftsmen. When the question of precedence was rife at the time of the religious pageants, the litsters frequently claimed a superior place, but in 1546 they were definitely instructed to furnish their banner and take part in the Corpus Christi and Candlemas processions along with the rest of the craftsmen:—

25th June, 1546.—The said day, the haill litstaris of this burgh chesit Alexander Fresser, litstar, thair dekyne of the said craft for this instant yeir ; quhilk accepit the said office on him, and is sworne the grit ayth to exerce the same lelie and treuelie, dureing the said yeir: and the bailyeis interponit their auctoritie tharto, and ordanit thame to haue thar banar and Paoane, as uther crafteis of the said burgh hes, ilk yeir, on Corpis Christi day and Candilmess dais processiounis, under the paines contenit in the statut maid tharupon.—Council Register, vol. xix., p. 143.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century the question of precedence was brought before the Court of Session, when a decreet was pronounced finding that the litsters could not exercise their own trade and the trade of Guild burgesses at the same time, notwithstanding the Acts of the Convention of Burghs, the custom of the burgh of Aberdeen being different in this respect from that of other burghs.

The claim to be classed before the craftsmen was revived in 1759, when the litsters endeavoured to obtain precedence, or at least equality, for their sons at Robert Gordon's Hospital over the Incorporated Trades. The barbers and bookbinders (The mention of bookbinders in a petition by the convener and deacons of the Incorporated Trades against the claim of the Litsters suggests that they had been associated in a corporate capacity, but this is the only mention of them we have been able to discover in the Burgh Records.) also endeavoured to establish a like privilege, but the Governors, as the following minute bears, declined to recognise their claim :—

3rd April, 1759.—The said day the Governors being about to proceed to the election of boys to be received into the Hospital betwixt this date and the first day of June next, in terms of the Deed of Mortification, a representation was offered to them in name and behalf of the Convener and Deacons of Incorporated Trades or crafts of Aberdeen, complaining of a resolution and act made by the governors upon the 3rd day of April last, 1758, "finding that in terms of the mortification litsters burgesses had an equal title with any other burgesses tradesmen of the Seven Incorporated Trades or crafts to have their children received into the Hospital," and the said representation being read and considered by the governors, and they having at great length reasoned on the affair, and the question being put, it carried by a great majority that the sons and grandsons of the incorporate tradesmen of the burgh of Aberdeen are to have the preference immediately after the sons and grandsons of burgesses of guild in terms of the deed of mortification in all time coming, and therefore the governors did decree and determine accordingly.—Hospital Records.

About the middle of the seventeenth century Archibald Bean, a member of the Litsters Society, left several properties to provide funds for the benefit of decayed members of that craft, and down to April of last year (1886) the funds belonging to the society were administered for that purpose. But the last of the members has now passed away. On 30th April, 1886, John Bannerman, the only surviving member and office-bearer, died at the advanced age of 95; and the funds that remained after his death, and several old houses, have been claimed by the Queen's Remembrancer on behalf of the Crown. Mr. David Mitchell, advocate, the agent for the Society, is at present engaged in winding up the affairs of this venerable association.

The Barbers, who down to the end of the seventeenth century were designated as chirurgeons (An antique oak chair, which bears the inscription "H. G., Chirurgie" with the Guthrie arms, is preserved in the Trades Hall, and is said to have been the chair used by the deacon of the Barber's Society.) and periwig makers, obtained a Seal of Cause from the Town Council in 1537, authorising them to elect a deacon, make rules, prescribe an examination for entrants, &c., in the same manner as the other crafts. In 1674, when they had established a benevolent fund, they obtained a confirmation of their privileges under the title of barbers, surgeons, and periwig makers, but ultimately the association consisted solely of barbers and periwig makers. On 22nd January, 1729, a petition was presented to the Town Council by "Francis Massie, barber and periwig maker, present boxmaster, for himself, and in name of the haill incorporation," for power to raise the entry money from 6 to 12 Scots, on account of the increased benefits that were being given from accumulated funds. The prayer of the petition was granted, the incorporation being ordained to "call the Dean of Guild to their meetings to oversee and inspect their accounts, and to take the Dean's advice in stocking and lending their money." Up to about 1840 there were over thirty members, but gradually the membership fell off, and several years ago the remanent members and beneficiaries entered into a private arrangement for dividing the stock of the society among themselves. There is only one surviving member at the date of writing (1887).

The masons obtained a Seal of Cause in 1532 along with the wrights and coopers, but beyond being coupled with them in the same Seal of Cause the masons never became part of the society formed by the wrights and coopers. When the Seal of Cause was obtained, the masons elected their own deacon, formed a society for themselves, passed bye-laws, and accumulated funds in the same manner as the other associations. But about the middle of the seventeenth century their society underwent a curious metamorphosis. Free or " speculative" masonry was introduced into Aberdeen shortly after the mason craftsmen obtained their Seal of Cause, but little was heard of the mysteries of masonry until some time after the reformation, when a regular lodge was formed in connection with the Masons' Craft Society about 1670. At the outset, freemasonry was simply an adjunct of the original association of craft masons; but gradually it became its leading feature, and the incorporation of mason artificers eventually became what is now known as the Aberdeen Mason Lodge. The "olde book" of the Aberdeen Lodge contains the "lawes and statutes for measones gathered out of thir old wreatings by us, who ar the authoires and subscriberis of this booke," and the great bulk of these ordinances have reference to the of tirs of the incorporation, and are drawn up in similar terms to those enacted by the other craft incorporations in the town. They have nothing whatever to do with speculative masonry, which slid not obtain prominence until a charter was obtained from Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1743.

These separate societies having as it were swarmed off by themselves, the seven remained as a compact body, and have acted together for over two hundred and fifty years, aiding and assisting each other in preserving their rights and privileges, and amalgamating for the purpose of instituting various general funds for the benefit of their members and dependants.

Down to the beginning of the eighteenth century the craftsmen rigidly excluded burgesses of guild from their societies; but as the differences between the two classes of burgesses became more amicably adjusted, several of the crafts relaxed their constitution to the extent of declaring that the fact of an applicant being a burgess of guild should not be a bar to his becoming a member of one of the crafts should he be found otherwise qualified. In 1738 the Baker Trade passed an enactment that all members who should become burgesses of guild should still enjoy the same privileges as the other members of the trade, and from that date down to the year 1801, burgesses of guild were called to all the meetings and voted at the elections of the Baker Trade, with the exception of voting for the election of deacon. But in that year the right of burgesses of guild to vote at the election of deacons and other office-bearers was called in question. At this election five burgesses of guild were present. They gave no vote for the office of deacon, but, on his election being completed, they all voted for the masters of the trade and for the boxmaster. A complaint was presented to the Magistrates complaining, inter alirc, of the interference of the burgesses of guild in the election. The burgesses of build grounded their defence principally on the Act of the Trade, passed in 1738. After hearing both parties the Magistrates, on the 14th December, 1802, found that "the Act of the Baker Trade of Aberdeen, dated the 11th May, 1738, founded on by the defenders, was contrary to law and ultra vires of the corporaLion, and therefore ordained Robert Spring, the deacon of the trade, to expunge it from their books at the sight of the private complainer. Found that the defenders — William Strachan, Adam Watt, John Wallace, Alexander Hall, and George Henderson—by obtaining themselves admitted burgesses of guild virtually renounced their craft as bakers, and were disqualified from voting in the election in question." The decree then contains the following prohibition:—"And further prohibits and discharges the said William Strachan, Adam Watt, John Wallace, Alexander Hall, and George Henderson from attending or voting in the election of deacon, masters, or boxinaster of the Baker Trade of Aberdeen in future, so long as they remain burgesses of guild of this burgh, under the penalty of 20 sterling each, toties quoties." This sentence was ultimately complied with, the minute of 11th May, 1738, was erased from the minute book, and a small fine and the expense of process were paid by the burgesses of guild. In 1803 William Strachan and several other burgesses of guild who were then members of the Baker Trade, raised an action of reduction and declarator. The action of reduction had reference to certain minutes of the trade, at the meetings of which the votes of the members of the guildry had been refused. The business before the court related to the lending of a large suin of money, and after the foregoing sentence of the Magistrates, the burgesses of guild had not been called to the meetings of the trade. The action of declarator was to have it found that the burgesses of guild " were entitled to be called to the meetings of the trade, and particularly in every question regarding the disposal of these funds to which they have contributed." In this action the trade was assoilzied both by Lord Armadale and Lord Hermand, both Lord Ordinaries finding that the pursuers (the burgesses of guild) were not entitled to vote in the disposal of the funds of the trade. The next case occurred in the year 1815. Three tailors, named Torrie, Spence, and Smith, having become members of the guildry, the trade gave orders that they should no longer be called to the usual meetings of the tailor trade. The tailor burgesses of guild brought a complaint before the Sheriff against the office-bearers of the trade, and craved that the Sheriff should find that they were entitled to be called to the meetings of the trade, and to vote in the election o all the office-bearers with the exception of the deacon, and that they were entitled to vote in all questions regarding the administration of the funds of the trade. In the course of the process the pursuers gave up their claim to vote for omcebearers, and restricted their claim to voting in any matter connected with the funds of the trade. Dr. Dauney, the Sheriff-Substitute, gave judgment in favour of the pursuers, thereby giving them a right to be called to the meetings and voting in the administration of the funds. Against this judgment the trades appealed to Sheriff Moir, who reversed the sentence and assoilzied the corporation by finding that the pursuers, the members of guildry, were not entitled to vote or to be called to the meetings of the Tailor Trade. In this case the names of all the members of guildry belonging to the other trades were mentioned, and it was alleged that in the other trades these members were called to all meetings, and voted in every case, with the exception of the election of deacon, but the Sheriff (Moir), notwithstanding, gave the sentence against the complainers. After the abolition of trading privileges in 1846, the Trades became less strict, and guild brethren who were also craftsmen have been free]y admitted.


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