I think I’ve nearly exhausted the Annals of Aberdeen* as a source of fascinating information about the city in which RGU is based and where we live and work. However, there are probably a few more areas of interest, not least one that, for me personally, has some relevance as it sheds some light on my (married) name…
In the fifteenth century, the church controlled much of everyday life and work. This included the direction of ordinary working men’s (and it was only men in those days) involvement in the various religious rites, dramas and plays. These working men “formed themselves into societies, according to their several occupations … By a statute of King James I in the year 1424, it was ordained that each company of artificers should choose one of their number annually to be deacon, or master man, who was empowered to oversee and inspect the work of the rest.” This seems to have caused some friction, for “In the year 1427, this office was entirely abolished, as being prejudicial to the nation, and the former meetings of the artificers condemned as the assemblies of conspirators.” However, the fact that these people played an important part in the religious assemblies meant that the clergy supported them and encouraged them to, in effect, ignore the law. But, “In the year 1496, it was again checked, as being dangerous, and as causing great trouble in the boroughs.” Incidentally, unlike today, it was common for the word “boroughs” to be used, as opposed to “burghs.”
A further Act in 1555 abolished these positions again, but the next year “the craftsmen of the boroughs in general obtained from Queen Mary a writ … by which all their former liberties and privileges were restored to them. The artificers of Aberdeen, who seem to have been at this time of some importance in the community, afterwards acquired considerable influence and favour in the town.”
Today, the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen are (with the year of founding in brackets): Hammermen (1519); Bakers (1398); Wrights and Coopers (1527); Tailors (1511); Shoemakers (1484 and 1520); Weavers (pre-1222); and Fleshers (1534). This body was created to adjudicate and alleviate disputes between the city’s trades and consequently drew up what was known as the Aberdeen Magna Carta to agree processes and means of settling disputes. It was ratified in August 1587 and raised to the status of a Royal Charter by King James I and VI in 1617. You can learn more about Aberdeen’s Seven Trades at this link.
However, the original corporations of the city were slightly different. According to the Annals, they “were originally the Litsters; the Smith and Hammermen: the Tailors; the Skinners and Furriers; the Cordwainers; the Fleshers; the Barbers; the Wrights, Coopers and Masons: and the Bakers. Incidentally, a Litster was a dyer of cloth, but of more importance I’m glad not to have become a Hammerman or a Flesher…
Julie Skinner, Resourcing and Benefits Specialist, RGU
* a historical record of the city from late 13th to early 19th centuries, available online if you wish to explore it further.