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


Prior to 1609 aged and decayed craftsmen were admitted into St. Thomas' Hospital, an institution founded by Canon Clatt for the reception and maintenance of indigent and decayed burgesses, merchant and craft alike; but by the following Act of Council the craftsmen were excluded, and its entire benefits monopolised by the merchant class of burgesses or guild brethren :—

1st March, 1609.—The said day the provost, baillies, new and auld counsall, considering that divers persons his been admitted and received to the hospital of this burght in tymes bygane wha hes not been burgess of gild, express against the terms of the foundation of the hospital, be the whilk it is specially provided that none sail be admitted thereto except decayed brither of gild of this burght allenarlie. Therefore to avoid the said abuse hereafter, and in respect that the rent of the said hospital is given and mortified thereto be the brither of gild of this burght, and be nane others, they enact and ordain that nane sail be admittet nor received to the said hospital in tyme cuming unless that they be burgesses of gild of this burght according to the tenor of the foundation thereof. excluding hereby all craftismen of this burght, extranears or utheris whatsomever from having ony place in the said hospital in tyme cuming except burgesses of gild allenarlie unless the foundation thereof be altered, and that livings be deited and mortifiet thereto be craftismen.—Council Register, vol. xliii, p. 884.

This procedure on the part of the Magistrates and Council —at that time almost exclusively composed of merchant burgesses or guild brethren—of excluding the craftsmen from the benefits of St. Thomas' Hospital, although resented at the time, proved a blessing in disguise to the craftsmen, for it was this exclusion from the town's hospital that induced Dr. Guild to found an hospital for the craftsmen, an institution that in many ways proved of great service and utility to the Trades. Originally only six Trades were admitted to the benefit of the hospital—the Hammermen, Bakers, «'rights and Coopers, Tailors, Shoemakers, and Weavers—the six Trades which had the privilege of sending their deacons to vote at the election of Magistrates. In 1657, however, a few months before Dr. Guild's death, an agreement was entered into between the Convener Court, and " Andrew Watson, deacon of the Fleshers, and John Craighead, late deacon of the said traid, for themselves, and in name and behalf of the rest of the freimen of the Flesher traid," whereby the Flesher trade was incorporated along with the other six, and admitted to all the benefits of the hospital on payment of four hundred merks Scots. This turned out to be an exceedingly wise action on the part of the Flesher craft, for it is a somewhat striking fact that the other crafts, who were not embraced in Dr. Guild's foundation, including the Masons, Litstars, Barbers, &c., who all had deacons at one time or other, have dropped out of existence, while the Seven have thriven and prospered under this visible bond of unity.

Under his deed of gift and charter of administration, Dr. Guild reserved during his lifetime "the power and patronage and direction in all things as shall seem most expedient to be done," and, as appears from the Convener Court Books, he presided at a number of meetings where additional regulations were drawn up for the better administration of the hospital. In one of these regulations it was made incumbent on every craftsman to make a freewill offering to the hospital funds—freewill so far as the amount was concerned, but compulsory in respect that no craftsman could reap any benefit from the hospital unless he had made such offering. The funds of the hospital were also augmented by a number of bequests and donations by the more wealthy craftsmen, and in a very short time the institution became thoroughly established and well supplied with funds.

In course of time, the severe and monastic life imposed upon the inmates became very irksome, and very few of the aged craftsmen were willing to submit themselves to its rigorous discipline. The nature of the life that was led in this hospital may be gathered from the following extracts from the deed of foundation:---

"I WILL also, that they be always present at the Sunday and weekly sermons (unless they be confined to their beds by sickness), as also at the public morning and evening prayers (especially in summer). ALSO, I ordain that in their own chapel a portion of the Word of God be read twice daily, and prayers offered up by a suitable reader (who shall have fifty merks paid him therefor yearly), to be properly chosen by the patron, which service shall be between nine and ten in the morning or forenoon, and between three and four in the evening or afternoon: and whoever (except through sickness) shall be once absent, let him be admonished ; if twice, punished by the director ; and if thrice, removed from the hospital.

"I WILL also, that no woman dwell in the said hospital (although the wife of one that is admitted), or stay therein for a moment; and that no one who is admitted wander in any way forth thereof through the town or streets ; and that they all be always clothed with gowns of a single and decent colour ; MOREOVER, that the said headmen be subject and obedient to the commands and admonitions of the foresaid director, and that they be an honest, godly, and peaceable conversation. And if any of them wander without, or be troublesome within to any of their comrades, or commit any other fault, or be found disobedient, or a breaker of the rules of this mortification, he shall be punished in his person, or removed from the hospital, by the said director, who, however, in this case shall take the advice and consent of the foresaid minister of the Word of God and deacon-convener, who have, and by these presents shall have power, one poor man dying or removing from the said hospital or being otherwise withdrawn, to choose and put in another poor man in his place, in form aforesaid.

"I WILL also, that one of the foresaid poor men be janitor of the said hospital weekly, having the keys of the doors and gates thereof (except the keys of the private rooms) ; and keep this order—First, in the morning, he shall open the outer gate and the door of the house and chapel at half-past seven hours, that they may go to public prayers in the church, or to hear a discourse, and at that same hour shall ring the bell a little, that by ringing thereof the rest being awakened may make themselves ready for the foresaid exercises : Next, the same janitor shall ring the bell regularly about the ninth hour in the morning, and the third hour in the evening, to summon the rest to hear prayers and the reading of the Scriptures in the chapel : And from thence they are to go to their own private rooms, and use their trade till the eleventh hour in the forenoon, and the sixth in the evening, and then they shall assemble in the common hall, and under a common president dine and sup together, the hebdomadar always publicly giving thanks."

About the beginning of the present century the hospital became tenantless, and a Decreet of Declarator was obtained from the Court of Session, authorising the Master of Hospital to give grants of money to those who objected to living in the hospital. Eventually the hospital system was abandoned, and for many years the funds have been administered in accordance with the Decreet of Declarator obtained in 1803. (See appendix.)

The office of patron to the Incorporated Trades was established under the hospital charter, which lays down that he must be "a preacher of the Word of God at Aberdeen." The appointment is for life, unless the patron chooses to resign, one of the few instances of which occurred when Rev. Dr. Murray resigned at the Disruption because he considered it incumbent on him to give up the post when he left the Established Church. A change of opinion, however, has taken place on this point, as the present patron, Rev. Dr. Spence, is a minister of the Free Church.

The duties of the Master of Hospital are defined in the statutes passed by the Convener Court (see Chap. II.), the charter simply stating that he must be "a diligent and godly man, able to exercise the office, and who shall give an account of his diligence, care, and faithful administration to the said minister, deacon-convener, and other deacons of the trades the week preceding the election of the deacon-convener or deacons yearly." The Master of Hospital was frequently entrusted by the whole Trades to organise their charitable work in times of dearth, and when distress was more than usually prevalent. Before the poor law system was established, the Trades extended their charity to all connected with them, journeymen as well as their own regular members; and as the great bulk of the benefit was given in food and clothes, the Master of Hospital bought in all the supplies, making purchases of meal to the extent of eighteen hundred bolls at a time. Each trade got its proportionate share for distribution, the box-masters having charge of the "girnals" in which the meal was stored.

There was also in connection with the hospital a reader to conduct morning and evening prayers, and to visit the aged craftsmen in their own houses. Lists of the Patrons, Masters of Hospital, Legal Advisers, Catechists, and Housekeepers are subjoined :-


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