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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part III. Chapter XIV - The Abolition of Special Trading Privileges

ONE of the results of the Burgh Reform movement, which began to gather force in Scotland about the beginning of the present century, was the abolition of the exclusive trading privileges which had been so long enjoyed by the merchant and craft guilds throughout the country. Owing to peculiar local circumstances, the reform agitation was carried on with intense vigour in Aberdeen, and no class of the community took a more active share in it than the different bodies of craftsmen. They expected to reap many advantages from the opening up of the burghs; they little anticipated that the reform they so anxiously sought for would pave the way for the " disestablishment " of their own particular associations so far as their trading monopolies were concerned. They fondly hoped that, under a reformed system of local government, they would enter on a new era of extended trading privileges and increased powers for regulating the trade and industries of the town. But the reform movement, which they were so active in promoting, did not stop exactly where they expected it would. In its onward march it overtook their own particular trading privileges, and in one " fell swoop" swept away privileges and monopolies which they had enjoyed for nearly seven centuries.

[As a curiosity we give a copy of one of the last petitions presented to the Magistrates in reference to the exclusive privileges of the craftsmen of Aberdeen:-

Unto the Honourable the Magistrates of Aberdeen The petition of James Clyne, Shoemaker in Aberdeen, present Boxmaster of the Shoemaker Trade, a Incorporation of Aberdeen, for himself, and as representing said Trade,

Humbly Sheweth,

That the said Trade have the exclusive right and privilege of carrying on the Shoemaker Trade of the Burgh of Aberdeen; that notwithstanding thereof Alexander Ritchie and William Ritchie, Shoemakers, Schoolhill, Aberdeen, carrying on business under the firm of Alexander and William Ritchie, Shoemakers, Schoolhill, Aberdeen; George Burgess, Shoemaker, Union Street, Aberdeen, and carrying on business under the firm of George Burgess and Company, Shoemakers, Union Street, Aberdeen; and George ,Melvin, Shoemaker, Woolmanhill, Aberdeen, have been earring on said trade for sometime past within the Burgh of Aberdeen without being freemen, whereby they have become respectively liable to said trade and petitioner as Boxniaster foresaid in damages and expenses, and in respect they persist in carrying on said trade it Is necessary to present this petition for fine and interdict.

May it therefore please your Honar to appoint this petition to be intimated to the said Alexander Ritchie, William Ritchie, and Alexander and William Ritchie, as a company ; George Burgess, and George Burgess and Company ; and to the said George Melvin, on a short inducio, and with or without answers to fine and amerciate them in the sum of ten pounds sterling each in name of damages and expenses payable to the petitioner as Boxmaster foresaid, and as representing and for behoof of said trade. Also to prohibit and discharge them from carrying on said trade or any part thereof within Burgh, under the penalty of ten pounds sterling each toties quoties in all time coming, or until they become members of said trade, and also to find them liable in the expense of this application and procedure to follow thereon. According to Justice drawn by (Signed) ALEX. ALLAN.

Aberdeen, 10th April, 1840.—Appoints the said Alexander Ritchie, William Ritchie, and Alexander and William Ritchie as a company; George Burgess, and George Burgess and Company ; and George Melvin to lodge answers to the foregoing petition, if they any have, with the Clerk of Court within three free days after they are respectively served with a double of said petition and of this deliverance by an officer of Court with certification. (Singed) J. URQUHART.

A full double served on you the said George Melvin, this tenth day of April, eighteen hundred and forty years, by me, WILL WALKER, Town Sergeant.]

When the reform movement sprang into active life in Aberdeen about 1816, the affairs of the town were in a deplorable state. The Town Council was one of the "closest" in the country; the corporation funds were in a mess; and all classes of citizens united in moving for a radical change. In 1817 the retiring members of the Town Council issued a manifesto stating "that they were compelled to leave the affairs of the burgh in a state of embarrassment, which, as it has been a source of much vexation and distress among themselves, must still prove one of considerable difficulty to those who may be destined to succeed them unless immediate steps are taken to redeem the credit of the corporation." The members of the Council themselves were of opinion that the existing "mode of election of the Town Council and management of town's affairs are radically defective and improvident, tending to give to any individual or party who may be so inclined an excessive and unnatural preponderance, and to foster and encourage a system of concealment under which the most upright and best intentioned magistrates may not be able to acquire a thorough knowledge of the situation of the burgh; "and it was felt that nothing short of a complete change in " the manner of electing the Council, and an effectual control given to the citizens over the expenditure of the town's office-bearers, would effect any good."

The Trades appointed a special committee to look after their interests, and numerous were the petitions forwarded by them to Parliament praying for a radical change in the mode of electing Town Councils, and for a redress against what they considered were encroachments by the merchant burgesses on their special privileges.

But when the Burgh Reform Bill of 1833 was introduced, the merchant guilds and craft incorporations throughout the country began to see that their own privileges were to be curtailed. In the form in which the bill passed the House of Commons, the right of deacons of guild and deacon-conveners to sit in the Town Councils was to be swept away; but, mainly we believe through the efforts of the Glasgow Trades House, the bill was amended in the House of Lords, and the deacons and conveners were allowed to remain constituent members of the Town Councils. [The Deacon-Convener In Aberdeen, unlike those in several other towns, had no seat at the Town Council. He had merely a seat at the Police Board before the amalgamation of the Municipal and Police Departments.] An important clause was also introduced in this bill providing—"That nothing herein contained shall be held or construed to impair the right of any craft, trade, convenery of trades, or guildry, or merchant house, or trades house, or other such incorporation severally to elect their own deacons, or deacon-conveners, or deans of guild, or directors, or other lawful officers for the management of the afihirs of such crafts, trades, conveneries of trades, or guildries, merchants or trades houses, or other such corporations, but that on the contrary the said several bodies shall from and after the passing of this Act be in all cases entitled to the free election in such forms as shall be regulated by them of the said several office-bearers, and other necessary officers for the management of their affairs, without any interference or control whatsoever on the part of the Town Council thereof."

The abolition of trading privileges took place under an Act passed in 1846, the preamble of which sets forth :"Whereas in certain Royal and other Burghs in Scotland the members of certain Guilds, Crafts, or Incorporations possess exclusive privileges of carrying on or dealing in Merchandise, and of carrying on or exercising certain Trades or Handicrafts within their respective Burghs, and such Guilds, Crafts, and Incorporations have corresponding rights entitling them to prevent persons not being members thereof from carrying on or dealing in merchandise, or from carrying on or exercising such trades or handicrafts within such burghs; and whereas it has become expedient that such exclusive privileges and rights should be abolished, be it enacted, &c." Then follows the enacting clause declaring " that from and after the passing of this Act all such exclusive trading privileges and rights shall cease." [For full text of this Act see Appendix.]

What is known as the Dunlop Act, which was passed in 1860 for amending the law relative to the legal qualification of councillors and the admission of burgesses in Royal Burghs in Scotland, and under which burgesses can be created on payment of twenty shillings, also provided that "such admission by minute of Council shall not per se be held to give or imply any right of title to, or interest in, the properties funds, or revenues of any of the Guilds, Crafts, or Incorporations of the burgh, or any mortifications or benefactions for behoof of the burgesses of such Guilds, Crafts, or Incorporations or their families, or any right or management thereof in any of the said Guilds, Crafts, or Incorporations."

Under a subsequent Act passed in 1876 for the assimilation of the law of Scotland to that of England respecting the creation of burgesses, it was also enacted that " nothing herein contained shall interfere with any law or legal usage by which burgesses are now created or admitted in any burgh, or give or imply any right or title to or interest in any merchants house or trades house or any patrimonial lands, commons, or other properties, funds or revenues of any guild, burgesses of guild, crafts, or incorporations of the burgh, or to or in any burgess acres, or any grazing rights connected therewith, or any mortifications or benefactions for behoof of the members of such guilds, burgesses of guild, crafts, or incorporations, and of their families, or any right of management thereof."

The only special privileges that remained to the craftsmen in Aberdeen after the abolition of exclusive trading privileges, above those enjoyed by ordinary citizens, were a preferential claim for the admission of their sons to Robert Gordon's Hospital, exemption from the Bell and Petty Customs, and a right to vote for the election of Harbour Commissioners. But even these have gradually disappeared; and a free craftsman is now, so far as any special rights of citizenship are concerned, practically on the same platform as an ordinary residenter or ratepayer.

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