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Possible Extinction?

T  heir numbers then also went into decline and, with a considerable reduction in the role of their Dean, interest in the Burgess movement flagged over the years, so much so that extinction looked possible.

Membership of the Guildry has varied widely over the years. As the privileges and rights of Burgesses declined, and with less need for their presence to safeguard laws and customs of the burgh, their numbers decreased.

At the start of the 19th Century, when Aberdeen had a population of about 40,000, there were about 1,000 Burgesses. In 1817, there were 820. By 1867 the number was down to 337 and a century later the number was much the same, dropping to 300 in 1981 – and still all men. But all that was soon to change, just as the city had changed with the discovery of oil under the North Sea.

First Women Burgesses

First women admitted as Burgesses (left to right): Mrs Lilian Stephan; Mrs Freda Mutch; Diane Morgan; Mrs Dorothy Grassie; Mrs Anne G Cocker; Miss Marjorie Bosomworth; Mrs Elizabeth Blacklaw

As the city’s population swelled to more than 200,000 so, too, did membership of the Guildry, reaching about 850 in the year 2000. But it was in 1983 that, by a major change in the rules of admission, women were admitted as full Burgesses and, at an historic Town Council meeting on November 28 of that year, seven women received their certificates of admission.

Subsequently, one went on to be elected a member of the team of six Assessors who support the Dean of Guild in running all areas of the organisation. Membership was not the only area that was regarded as in need of change. In 1981, the then Dean of Guild raised his concern that Guildry funds were not being used to the benefit of the community. Informal talks were held with the Town Clerk on ways in which funds, surplus after paying all annuities, might be used, but it was felt that nothing could be done.

Some nine years later, following agreement among all Burgesses and with the Council, a petition was submitted to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to allow a variation in the use of surplus funds. After much legal argument, and the proviso that the payment of annuities remained as the first obligation, this petition was finally granted in 1996.

Under it, the Guild won the right to give financial support to selected citizens in educational or vocational training or otherwise to further proposed careers. Subsequently came introduction of the Guildry Award Scheme.

Guidelines for the award state that support will be considered to assist persons born or habitually resident in the City of Aberdeen and intending to pursue careers that, if pursued, would qualify them for admission as Burgesses of Guild of Aberdeen, to pursue education or vocational training courses or otherwise to further their proposed careers.

First Guildry Award

Presentation of frst Guildry Award (left to right): Bill McKimmie, Dean of Guild; Councillor David E. Clyne, Master of Mortifications; Pauline Gerrard; Alan T. Towns, Assistant to the Chief Executive, Aberdeen City Council; Bill Wyllie, Dean of Guild 1981 to 1998.

The first such award was made in 2001 to Mrs Pauline Gerrard, enabling her to attend a course of neuro-developmental delay studies. These involved training in techniques designed to help young children overcome learning and behavioural difficulties, techniques which Mrs Gerrard hoped to introduce for the benefit of children in the Aberdeen area.

Another significant change in Guild activities in keeping with modern times saw the introduction of a series of social events, with visits to places of interest in the area, a special evening to support the city’s annual International Youth Festival, a film show that captured some local historic occasions, and opportunities afterwards for Burgesses with their guests to make new friends and renew acquaintances.

One event that helped to highlight Millennium Year for the Guild and to strengthen a historic connection was a visit to Trinity Hall, home of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen whose members also share an important place in the annals of the city.

For the Burgesses of Guild themselves, the second Tuesday of May each year holds special significance. That is the traditional date set for their Annual General Meeting, with an equally traditional start time – 12 noon.

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