The Trades of Edinburgh

The incorporations, most of which date from the fifteenth century, were and are trade organisations whose members are or were “craftsmen” or “tradesmen” manufacturers, known as “freemen masters” of their particular trade. The incorporations perform the same functions in Scottish burghs as the worshipful companies do in London, but none are as large or as well-endowed as their English counterparts. The freemen of the incorporations, who historically were all supposed to be burgesses of the burgh, were expected to employ journeymen and to train apprentices. Today the nature of most of the incorporations has changed and the freemen are often professionals in some field other than that to which their incorporation pertains.

Until the Scottish Burgh Reform Act in 1833 six of the deacons of these incorporations were full members of the Town Council (usually called “council deacons”) and the remaining eight were denominated “extraordinary deacons”, who sat with the Council on certain occasions and had voice and vote in the annual municipal elections. Until 1846 the incorporations exercised exclusive privileges of trade, preventing any outsiders from practising their craft in the burgh until they had paid their dues and joined the appropriate incorporation.

There were fifteen incorporations in Edinburgh, fourteen of which had deacons who were permanent members of the Convenery of Trades from its inception in c.1562. The deacon of the Candlemakers was only included in the Convenery for a short time, from 1598 to 1604; since 2011 he has been included in the Convenery once more. The Society of Barbers did not come into existence until it separated from the Surgeons in 1722.

The order of precedence among the incorporations is determined not by their relative antiquity but by the Act of Sett of the Burgh of Edinburgh, which was agreed by King James VI in a decreet arbitral in 1583. Part of the reason for this is that by that time several of the trades, most of which were a century or more old, no longer possessed their original seals of cause and did not know the year in which they had been founded.

The Trades of Edinburgh:

1. The Incorporation and Royal College of Surgeons
2. The Incorporation of Goldsmiths
3. The Incorporation of Skinners
4. The Incorporation of Furriers
5. The Incorporation of Hammermen
6. The Incorporation of Wrights
7. The Incorporation of Masons
8. The Incorporation of Tailors
9. The Incorporation of Baxters
10. The Incorporation of Fleshers
11. The Incorporation of Cordiners
12. The Incorporation of Weavers
13. The Incorporation of Waulkers (extinct)
14. The Incorporation of Bonnetmakers & Dyers
15. The Incorporation of Candlemakers
The Society of Barbers

By Henry Steuart Fothringham OBE, Historian to the Convenery of Trades and member of the Incorporation of Candlemakers of Edinburgh

Comments are closed.