• +07789 994682
  • clerk@aberdeenburgesses.com

Waulkers and Weavers

R  oyal authority for the formation of an Aberdeen Guild of Burgesses did more than that - it also hastened a serious split within the ranks of the Burgesses themselves.

When King Alexander II decreed that this new Guild be formed, he laid it down that it be open only to those Burgesses who were merchants. Others, the manufactures, traders and craftsmen – waulkers and weavers in the King’s words – were to be excluded.

And so arose a serious conflict between merchant and trade Burgesses that was to continue for centuries not only in Aberdeen but throughout Scottish burghs.

Following their exclusion from the new Guild, the Aberdeen traders turned more towards their own trade associations, the Weavers, the Hammermen, Wrights and Coopers, Bakers and the like. Later, in the 16th Century they decided to join forces in a corporate body, the Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen, to help protect their position, their rights and privileges and to promote their standing within the burgh.

This also led to the setting up of their own hospital and meeting rooms under a group of corporate officials, the principal being the Deacon Convener who presided over his court of craft deacons.

And so began a separate chapter of Aberdeen’s history. These Burgesses, who became known as Burgesses of Trade, remained on the burgh’s Burgess list with all attendant responsibilities but without a number of privileges accorded the merchant members. At one time they were also refused entry into the new Guild unless prepared to renounce their own craft. This kind of exclusion strengthened the power base of Guild members whose influence upon the composition and conduct of the Town Council was considerable and even led to further reductions in trading privileges granted to the traders.

St Nicholas Kirk oak steeple burned down in 1874

St Nicholas Kirk oak steeple burned down in 1874

Despite these difficulties between Guild and Trade Burgesses, obligations and duties remained the same for all regarding the need for personal residence within the burgh, Scot and lot, watch and ward, and the provision of weapons for local defence.

The oath taken by both categories also remained largely the same and this unity was exemplified by the willingness of all Burgesses to join the force raised in 1411 by Provost Robert Davidson to help halt the southwards advance of Donald Ross, Lord of the Isles, as his Highland attackers advanced on Aberdeen.

Confrontation between the armies came at Harlaw, near Inverurie, where the Highland invaders were beaten, but only after considerable loss of life on both sides, one such casualty being Provost Davidson who was seen as something of a hero and was buried in the burgh’s St Nicholas kirkyard.

In 1364 a general charter granting new privileges throughout Scotland had the effect of reinforcing Aberdeen’s control of exports from Aberdeenshire and in restricting involvement in such commerce to the merchants.

The Trade Burgesses were dealt a further blow in 1469 with the introduction of a new Act described as the most damning Act of the Scottish Parliament which made burgh councils self-electing, effectively denying the Trade Burgesses any worthwhile say in local affairs.

This conflict between Burgesses was not confined to Aberdeen. A joint appeal from trade members in Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen obtained from King James VI in 1581 a new charter confirming old privileges and an extension of their trading rights.

However, Aberdeen magistrates and council extorted promises from prominent traders not to exercise these privileges, and, in turn, the traders then refused to proceed with their part in the election of council office-bearers until their rights were restored.

In 1587, with both sides possibly tiring of reprisals, their differences went to arbitration and a decree was issued regulating the dealings of the Town Council with the traders.

Besides defining the respective liberties of trading for both sides, the decree – the Common Indenture – also fixed entry charges for new Burgesses. But the agreement did not produce the expected harmony and differences mounted to the point where, in 1592, an open-air meeting at Greyfriars became a violent confrontation at which blood was spilt.

This had the effect, however, of bringing both sides to their senses and a few days later, at a more solemn meeting at Woolmanhill, the parties were reconciled.

Gradually, over the years, as the practice of granting rights and privileges to Burgesses lessened considerably, so too did division between Burgesses of Guild and of Trade. A new equality began to emerge, first from decisions by the Convention of Royal Burghs and later by the Reform Act of 1833 which also put council elections on a new footing.

Now, with those years of division left far behind, Guild and Trade are united once again as Burgesses supporting the wellbeing of the City of Aberdeen.

Petition from Town's tradesmen to the Dean of Guild to stop sale

Petition from Town’s tradesmen to the Dean of Guild to stop sale

Early 19th Century advert to sell goods in Aberdeen

Early 19th Century advert to sell goods in Aberdeen

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.