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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part III. Chapter IV - The Bursars' House


BY a deed, dated 15th September, 1655, Dr. Guild left five thousand merks to the Master of Hospital, Deacon-Convener of the crafts of Aberdeen for the time, and remanent deacons, for " ye intertaining of thrie poore boyes yt ar craftsmen's sounes, as bursers in the new colledge of Aberdeine, yt ar of good ingynes, and able for ye said colledge ;" but under a proviso in the will he gave his heirs the option of giving, instead of five thousand merks, " his fore house in ye Castellgate, wherein I dwell, and brew house, with rowmes above, in ye other syd of ye close." When the doctor died his heirs elected to hand over the property which, by the way, was at one time supposed to have been given to Dr. Guild by Charles II., in return for a basin filled with gold, which he presented to His hIajesty on his visit to the burgh. The title deeds of the property, however, effectually dispose of this pretty legend. It originally belonged to the well-known Rolland family. William Rolland fell heir to it on the death of his father William in 1567 ; then it descended to a brother named James, was next owned by Alexander, son of James, and was then sold by "the said Alexander, and Bessie Tullidai; his wife, to Dr. Guild, in 1628, for the sum of 2500 merks Scots, with free passage to and from the same by the foregate thereof and turnpike in the close." The "brew house, with the rowmes above, on the other syd of the close," had been sold by James Rolland to Thomas Nicolson, son of Provost George Nicolson (1622), but these properties also returned to the Rolland family. Dr. Guild became proprietor in 1636, the sasine bearing that it followed upon "a disposition and resignation thereof by John Moir, collector of the kirk-session, and his patrons, and also of Richard Paip, William Scott, and the above-mentioned William Rolland, the former possessor thereof, and Jane Stewart, his spouse."

In this deed Dr. Guild stipulated that "in caise any variance be concerning ye bestowing of any of these burses upon any of ye forespecified, I ordain yat ye eldest minister in Aberdeen (as most conscientious to see the mortification goe right) decide in ye matter, and yat impartiallie ye said benefit be bestowed out of ye maills of ye said houses upon ye unablest in means and best qualified in gifts as they shall answer to God, which house, likewise in all tym coming (yat it, nor ye maills thereof be not perverted to any other use) I ordain to be called ye Bursers House, and that when any of them are laureat they by writ oblige themselves for the benefit received when God enables them to add to ye mortification and that yis yeir writ be carefullie keiped in the Master of Hospitals Box, either by itselfe or rather in a book made for the purpose, and who shall sett the said house by advice of ye said Deacon-Conveener and Deacons, and uptake the maills thereof and be conjunct with them in the patronage and election of ye said bursers."

Under an authority from the Court of Session, obtained in 1884, the Trades disposed of the Bursars House and other property which had been subsequently purchased in the same locality, and the money is now otherwise invested.

For the first hundred years or so the rents or maills of the houses thus bequeathed were fully required to support the stipulated number of bursars. About 1710, however, there seems to have been a scarcity of bursars, and as the bursaries were then paid in the shape of fees direct to the professors, these gentlemen, not unnaturally, took steps to have the terms of the will duly carried out. In 1710 the principal and professors of Marischal College raised an action in the Court of Session against the Master of Trades Hospital, Deacon-Convener, and Deacons of the Crafts, to have it declared that in terms of Dr. Guild's Mortification, they shall present and maintain three bursars at the College, and pay the fees of the bursars at the rate of 20 merks Scots each yearly to the professors of the College; that in the event of no craftsmen's sons in the town of Aberdeen being found qualified to enter the College, then to declare that the Master of Hospital, Convener, and Deacons, be bound to find duly qualified bursars from some other part of Scotland, and have them presented; and also to ordain them to count and reckon for the rents of the property mortified for the period up to the raising of the action. The professors maintained that in case of a bursar giving up his presentation before his time was finished, or if he died, or when his time was finished, the Trades were bound at once to fill up the vacancy by presenting a craftsman's son; and that in case of their being unable to find a tradesman's son qualified for the presentation, then the patrons were obliged " to present any poor boy that is qualified and unable to maintain himself," a bond being taken from them or some of their friends binding them to refund the amount of the benefit got by them from the mortification.

The case having been duly heard, the Lords of Session found that the mortifier (Dr. Guild) determined no preference as to the persons to be presented bursars, but allowed the Master of Hospital, Convener, and Trades of Aberdeen to prefer the craftsmen's sons within the town of Aberdeen to be bursars in the first place, when they can be found qualified; and failing them they must present any other craftsmen's sons in Scotland. They also decided that there must be three bursars always presented. They refused the claims of the professors for 20 merks for each of the bursars, but ordained the craftsmen to fill up the vacancies at once, in terms of the Mortification. The Trades were also ordained to produce their books and count and reckon for the rents of the Bursars' House during the period when bursars were not presented. After this date the fund seems to have prospered considerably. In 1837 the managers prepared a report for a Royal Commission, in which they state that "the whole funds are not distributed, though the whole free income might be so if there should be claimants entitled to it. A certain fixed sum, above the average of college bursaries, has been set apart for each bursar for these many years, and since 1825 no applicant has been denied or refused a bursary. The balance of income, if any, after paying bursaries has been employed at current interest to form a fund for rebuilding the property, and that by authority of the managers. It may be proper to state here, however, that in addition to the bursaries enjoyed by tradesmen's sons, the managers have been in the way of giving premiums for merit to bursars, varying in value from one to five pounds, and that such has been included as part of the annual expenditure."

From a table prepared a few years ago by the present writer, it appears that since 1858, 3350 has been paid in bursaries. At present the value of bursaries is 25, tenable for four years, and should a student qualify at the bursary competition to take one of the college bursaries he gets as an addition to his Trades bursary a sum equal to one-half of the bursary he proves himself able to take. Thus a student qualifying for, say, a 20 bursary would receive in all 35 as his Trades bursary. The stock of the fund which has been carefully "nursed" for a number of years, considerable sums having been lent out of the other funds for the purchase of additional property without any interest being charged, now amounts to over 5000. A portion of the surplus revenue is devoted to paying the fees and books of sons of members of the Trades who choose to attend the evening classes at Robert Gordon's College.


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