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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
By Ebenezer Bain (1887)

Trades Hall, Aberdeen
Trades Hall, Aberdeen


WHILE holding office among the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen a few years ago, I had frequent opportunities of scanning their interesting old records and other documents, and I had not gone far in my perusal of them until I discovered that they contained a considerable amount of material fitted to throw light on the trading customs, and the social and religious life of the community from the fifteenth century downwards.

It was also an agreeable surprise to find that, notwithstanding the many vicissitudes through which so many of our local institutions have passed, the records of the Trades, including the documents belonging to the monastery of the Trinity Friars, were in an excellent state of preservation; and it occurred to me that, as a new generation has now arisen, having little in common with the old burgher life, a historical account of these ancient societies might prove acceptable, not only to the existing members of the Trades, but to many others who take an interest in the different phases of early burgh life.

In estimating the position which these craft guilds held in the community, it is necessary to bear in mind the large proportion of the population that came within their jurisdiction. The families, journeymen, apprentices, and servants, as well as the craftsmen themselves, were all subject to the authority of the deacons and masters of the different crafts, and amenable to the laws and statutes enforced under the powers conferred by Royal Charters, Seals of Cause, and Acts of Council; and taken at a moderate computation, these classes would represent about two thirds of the whole community. The history of the craft guilds, therefore, ought in no small measure to reflect the conditions of life among the great bulk of the industrial classes; and if this volume helps to a better understanding of the guild life of our own community my object in collecting the historical information in this volume will be fully accomplished.

To the many friends who have assisted me in various ways I take this opportunity of returning my best thanks, more particularly to Mr. P. J. ANDERSON, Secretary of the New Spalding Club; Mr. A. II. MUNRO, of the Aberdeen Town House; and Mr. J. P. ED.IIO\D, and to the CONVENER, MASTER OF TRADES HOSPITAL, DEACONS, and BOXMiASTERS of the various Trades who so readily afforded inc access to the books and documents under their charge. To Mr. ANDREW J. GIBB, Mr. E. W. JAPP, Mr. C. CARMICHAEL, and Mr. GEORGE WATT, I am also indebted for assistance in connection with the plates and drawings.

E. B.

ABERDEEN, October, 1887.



  • Chapter I
    Introductory—Etymology of "Guild"—Origin of Guilds—Greek and Roman Guilds—The Different Classes of Guilds—The Guilds and Municipalities—Conflicts among the Guilds
  • Chapter II
    Continental Guilds—France— Italy— Portugal— Holland— Germany— Norway—Russia
  • Chapter III
    London Guilds—Royal Commission of 1880—The Guilds and the Municipality—Grades of Membership—The Great and Minor Companies —Trust and Corporate Income
  • Chapter IV
    Craft Guilds in Scotland — Edinburgh — Glasgow — Stirling — Perth —Dundee


  • Chapter I
    Special Privileges of Craftsmen—Early Trading Charters—Trades of Old Aberdeen—The "Wise Men of the Craft"—The Deacon-Convener —List of Deacon-Conveners
  • Chapter II
    The Crafts and the Church—Before the Reformation—Pageants and Miracle Plays—Abbot and Prior of Bon-Accord—Offerand of our Ladye—Corpus Christi Day—Order of Precedence—Robin Hood and Little John—Religious Processions—The Reformation Period —Cordiners' Altar--After the Reformation
  • Chapter III
    Differences among the Burgesses—Representation at the Council—Composition and Entrant Dues—New Charter of Privileges
  • Chapter IV
    The Common Indenture—Renewal of Differences—Election of Magistrates—Convention of Royal Burghs—The "X"
  • Chapter V
    A Fourteen Years' Litigation—The Composition—The Funds of the Trades—Decision by the House of Lords—Settlement of the Dispute
  • Chapter VI
    Constitution of Aberdeen Crafts—Jurisdiction—Seals of Cause—The Freedom—Burgess' Oaths—Patrimony—Rates of Composition" Mastersticks or Essays"
  • Chapter VII
    The Craftsmen as Citizen Soldiers—Providing Arms—The Rebellions of 1715 and '45


  • Chapter I
    Introductory — Formation of Separate Societies — The Litstars —The Barbers—The Masons—Exclusion of Burgesses of Guild
  • Chapter II
    The Convener Court — The Old Registers —Convener Court Book — Statutes of Convener Court—List of Office-Bearers
  • Chapter III
    Dr. William Guild and the Trades—his Literary Work--Signing the Covenant—Notes on Trinity Monastery—Gift to the Trades—Trinity Chapel
  • Chapter IV
    The Bursars' House—Action in Court of Session—Financial Statement
  • Chapter V
    Trades Hospital—Charter of Administration—Decreet of Declarator Patron—Master of Hospital—Lists of Patrons, Masters of Hospital, Assessors, &c.
  • Chapter VI
    Relics and Reminiscences of Old Trades Hall—Inventory and Description of Antique Chairs —Collection of Portraits—New Trades Hall
  • Chapter VII
    Hammermen Trade—The Crafts Associated as Hammermen—Seals of Cause—"Tryar of Gold and Silver "—Statutes of the Trade— Essays—Mortification—Prosperity
  • Chapter VIII
    Baker Trade—Bakers' ,Marks—Price of Wheat and Bread—Seal of Cause—Statutes—Essays —Convictions
  • Chapter IX
    Wright and Cooper Trade—Masons—Coopering in Aberdeen—Seals of Cause—Essays—Funds
  • Chapter X
    Tailor Trade—Seal of Cause—Statutes—Admission of Females—Upholsterers—Hours and Wages—Strike, 1797—Trust Funds—Property
  • Chapter XI
    Shoemaker Trade—Appointment of Searchers—Seal of Cause—Prices of Boots and Shoes, 1586—The "Schoon Mercat"—Hides and Bark —Statutes—Cobblers —Corners—Property
  • Chapter XII
    Weaver Trade—Early Mention—Price of Work—Old Aberdeen Weavers—Statutes—Essays—Property
  • Chapter XIII
    Flesher Trade—Appreciatores Carnum—Early Regulations—Seal of Cause —Price of Beef and Mutton, 1576—Flesh Market—Statutes Amalgamation with the Six Trades
  • Chapter XIV
    The Burgh Reform Movement—Abolition of Exclusive Trading Privileges —Rights to Property Reserved
  • Chapter XV
    The Funds of the Seven Trades—Tables of Entry Monies—Widows' Fund--Supplementary Widows' Fund—Trades School


See also...

Edinburgh Guilds and Crafts
A Sketch of the History of Burgess-ship, Guild Brotherhood, and Membership of Crafts in the city by Sir James Marwick, LL.D. (1909)


To tell in his own words the circumstances under which Sir James Marwick entered upon the preparation of this work, it is only necessary to quote two passages from his “ Retrospect,” printed a few years ago for the use of his family and intimate friends. Referring to the proposal of the Town Council, in the year 1868, to confer on the Baroness Burdett-Coutts the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, “ if this were found to be consistent with constitutional usage,” Sir James says: “ The proposal was a novel one, in support of which no modern precedent could be cited, so I was requested to apply such antiquarian and constitutional knowledge as I possessed to the solution of the question. It was quite understood that my report would be accepted, and that if it was in favour of the appointment of a woman as a burgess, and if the Baroness were so elected, the precedent would no doubt be followed by other burghs. Going back to the oldest extant burghal records, I satisfied myself that women had been burgesses, though not guild sisters, and I so reported, stating the grounds of my opinion. It was accepted, and the Baroness received the freedom.” At a subsequent part of the “Retrospect” the following paragraph occurs: “The investigation which I found it necessary to make in 1868 as to the early practice of the Royal Burghs of Scotland in regard to the admission of women as burgesses led me to continue my investigations as to the main condition of membership in these early communities; the power which burghs assumed to regulate the conditions of burgess-ship and to admit burgesses; the privileges which such admission conferred; the right which the v burgess possessed of disposing of his heritable property; the rights of his widow and children in regard to succession in heritage and in moveables; the rights of burgesses in the election of their own magistrates; the constitution of merchant guilds; the claim of these guilds to represent the entire community ; the position and right of craftsmen, and their struggles with the merchant guilds. On these and other branches of the burghal law, as illustrated specially in Edinburgh, I had written and printed off for the Burgh Becords Society the sheets of a work on ‘Burgess-ship, Guild Brotherhood and Membership of Crafts in Edinburgh,’ carrying the subject down to 1584-5, and had made progress in the completion of the work when the negotiations with Glasgow and my settlement in that city prevented further progress.”

When the foregoing was written, Sir James seems to have been under the impression that the printing of the book was stopped at the time of his removal to Glasgow, but in this respect his recollection was not quite exact. Continued at intervals and under obvious disadvantages, it was still going on in 1878, as is shown by a reference on p. 114 to the second volume of the Privy Council Register, which was published that year. It must have been after this that Chapter II. was completed, and, with the exception of a couple of sheets, printed off. A first proof of the remainder of the book, chiefly made up of extracts from the Town Council Registers down to the year 1872, had been obtained and was waiting revisal for the press and the writing of a connecting narrative; but at this stage the printers, seeing no early prospect of the release of their type in the ordinary way, took it down, thus removing at least one incentive to speedy publication.

Subsequent to his retirement from the Town-Clerkship of Glasgow, the completion of the book was one of the objects which Sir James had in view; but other undertakings had precedence, and at the time of his death the print remained in the condition in which it had been left about thirty years before. Though the work was not so complete as the author intended to make it, and though nearly one-half of the pages required to be re-set, the information brought together was considered too valuable to be longer withheld from publication, and arrangements were accordingly made for the book being issued. Access to the MS. Council Registers was readily granted by Mr. Hunter, Town Clerk, and, with the assistance obligingly rendered by Mr. Jarvis, of the Town-Clerk’s Office, the Revd. Walter MacLeod, Edinburgh, was enabled to collate the unrevised proofs with the original record, thereby ensuring accuracy in the extracts. The late Mr. Adam, City Chamberlain, had furnished the statistics derived from the Guildry Accounts, and his successor, Mr. Paton, has been kind enough to supply a few supplementary particulars.

The portrait forming the frontispiece is from a photograph of the Author taken about the time the book was written.

Glasgow, April 1909.

Government Instructions For Scotch Barrel Making
By W. McBean, Government Inspector Scotch Cured Herring (1916)

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