The Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee


The Baxters, now called the Bakers. Cordiners, or Shoemakers Skinners or Glovers, Tailors, Bonnetmakers, Fleshers, or Butchers, Hammermen, Brabaners or Websters or Weavers. The Waulkers or Fullers of cloth united with the Listers or Dyers in 1693 to become the Dyers.
In addition to the Nine Trades, Dundee also had the Maltmen, the Fraternity of Masters & Seamen, the Incorporation of Barbers & Perrriewig makers and the Three United Trades.
The Three United Trades were not chartered until 150 years after the Nine Trades and had no powers in the Burgh other than that of controlling their own affairs. They were the building trades, the Masons, Wrights and Slaters. The Wrights were the squarewrights, or cabinetmakers, Joiners, who were also responsible for Burials, and the Glaziers


The Crafts authority came from Letters, or a Seal of Cause, or Charters (all names for the same thing) giving the trades the right to elect their own Deacons and formulate Acts, Statutes and Ordinances to control the trade.
The Bonnetmakers have the earliest remaining Seal of Cause, dated 1496. This Seal of Cause is almost identical to those given to all the trades, not only in Dundee but also in the rest of Scotland. It seems that the Crown may have had a hand in preparing a kind of standard form, which had minor local variations.
Some of the books start with a list of earlier members of the trade from the memories of the members at that time.
As Archivist, it is my belief that until then the trades had not found it necessary to have any written records. Whatever the reason, and within a few years of one another, each trade started a Lockit Book and employed a Scrivener, usually a lawyer, as its Clerk.


Meeting PlaceMeeting PlaceMeeting PlaceMeeting PlaceMeeting PlaceFrom 1564, the trades met in the Howff. In old Scots the word Howff, or Houff, means meeting place. It had been the orchard of the Greyfriars Monastery and was gifted to the Burgh by Mary Queen of Scots as a burial ground.
The trades paid the council a rent, which in 1691 was £5.12/- a year, for the privilege standing in the snow, rain and gales to hold their meetings there. Each trade having his own meeting place - usually the gravestone of one of its former masters.
The Howff was the meeting place of the Trades until the Trades bought premises in 1778 at the head of the Murraygate in Dundee, and this was transformed on the ground level to shops and upper levels for the meeting place of the Trades. This was known as the Trades Hall and, at the opening ceremony, the trades assembled in the Howff and proudly marched to St Andrews Church were they held a service. This journey was not repeated until 1991 when Dundee celebrated 800 years as a Royal Burgh, and again in 1999 to celebrate the first service in St Andrew’s Church by Rev. Thomas Raitt.

Trades Hall


Dundee Pistols are extremely rare and valuable. A pair of pistols made by I & L Low for Louis XIII of France made over £54,000 at auction in October 2001.

Dundee Pistols


The Ramsay and Ivory families were famous Clockmakers, and David Ramsay went to London with James VI as Clockmaker to the King.
James Ivory was commissioned to make the clock for St. Andrew's Parish Church, The Trades Kirk. The face of the, Turret Clock, belonging to it is on display in the Albert Institute today. The Nine Trades had built St Andrews Church, by the Wellgate Centre, when the town refused to put up the money for a fourth church in the Burgh. Open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings it is well worth a visit particularly to view the stained glass windows and Deacons chairs.

St Andres Parish Church


The Convener's Court met every November to decide who qualified from each trade as one of the poor and decayed brethren and how much the year's pension would be. Then the Court retired to a local hostelry for Division and to enjoy a meal and perhaps a good drink. Division, was the handing out of the Pension Money to the Deacons and Boxmasters due to each Craft. This has gone on through the generations. There lies the origin of today's ‘Bridie Supper’.


Today the trades give Grants and bursaries towards education. They support Abertay University and some of its students, fund prizes and awards in various schools and colleges and they hold a seat on the board of Dundee High School. Involvement in restoring pride in the city by restoring valuable remains of the old burgh is regularly presented in the Press and Television.
The trades own property in Victoria Road Dundee and have recently spent over £1,250,000 converting it into high-class student accommodation. Much of this money has been borrowed, but with good financial advice the income will be such that even during the repayment period they are in a position to increase their charitable work to a figure near £60,000 per annum.

 St Andrews Parish Church

Welcome to The Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee website, an ongoing project to transcribe the records of the nine crafts. Providing a growing repository of documents and imagery that covers both the history and traditions associated with the Trades in Dundee. Included here are records of other public bodies in the burgh, with extracts from various books and charters, many in the original spelling and grammar.


Locket Books

The story of the Dundee trades is very similar to that of the Trades in the other Scottish Burghs. Sadly, the only old records of the Trades to be found today are those held in the Lockit Books. They are called that because they had hasps with a lock and are priceless.

They record everyone who was admitted as a Master to that Trade from the opening of the book to the present day. Also included are the Rules, Acts and Statutes of the trade. Some of the trades include their apprentices and some have a second book for their apprentices and journeymen only.


In the days of self-perpetuating councils the Nine Trades were the only body looking after the interests of the ordinary citizen. Bear in mind that this year's council elected the members of next year's council and you get some idea of the problems.
The excesses of the council were a constant problem to the trades and they were regularly at odds with them protecting the interests of the ordinary people.
As a body the Nine were very powerful indeed although as individual trades they were only interested in protecting their own rights and privileges. So much so that the Convener audited the Burgh Accounts and held a key to the Burgh Kist. No money could be borrowed without the trades approval.

So who were and are the trades, what is their purpose and how did it all begin? The answer to the last question is that no one knows. However we do know that in 1124, King David I framed Laws for the regulation of various trades and his Chamberlain made regular visits to ensure that they were enforced by the Bailies. These regulations required the trades to care for their poor and sick and laid down standards to control the price of the goods and the quality of the workmanship. Certainly from 1306, Robert I, James I, James IV and Mary Queen of Scots all recognised the trades as separate corporate bodies.


Quickly realising that they needed to act as a single body the trades formed “The Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee” as early as 1581, headed by a Convener and Boxmaster. They adopted the motto “Nine in One”. The Convener's Court, (The Convener, Boxmaster and the Nine Deacons), along with the Dean of Guild, elected the Provost and Bailies of the Burgh, from a leet provided by the Council. Their importance and authority in the Burgh can be judged from the fact that for years the Convener was charged with auditing the Burgh Accounts and held a key to the Burgh Kist. No money could be borrowed by the Burgh without the Trades agreement.

Some things were regulated by the Council. There were many years of famine and the problem of starvation was very great. For example, the Burgh, by keeping control over: a) the price of a loaf, b) the weight of a loaf and c) the quality of the ingredients could help ensure that fewer people starved. Because of the heavy penalties if a loaf was not up to weight, they started giving 13 for the price of 12 and we find the beginning of the Baker's Dozen. The quality of the bread was also important, not only because of the grade of flour used, but because it was not unknown for a few handfuls of sawdust to find its way into the mix. It was often grossly undercooked.


Through the trades the burgh could also keep out tradesmen from other areas and so ensure that all the tradesmen in the burgh had plenty of work to do. Foreign tradesman, "foreign" meaning anyone from outside the burgh, from places like Rotten Row, as the Hilltown was called, were a constant source of trouble.

To become a Master, as the members of a trade were known, you had to have served an apprenticeship, which varied in length of around seven years plus one year for meat and fee. The apprentice then had to produce an “Essay”, or “Masterpiece”. This meant that he was required to carry out some work to prove that he was competent in his trade. Sadly not all the trades record exactly what that entailed.

In 1700 the Cordiners test reads:
“He shall be obliged to meet to satisfaction of the trade a pair of Gaibt or stronger Boots A pair of Jackie or light boots and a pair of sea boots a pair of men's shoes with timber hiles and another pair of the same with leather hiles and a pair of men's pumps and such kinds of Women's shoes as the fashien calls for ye time of such Entrie and a pair of spatter Dashes or button'd boots.” Some test!

In order to carry out this work the apprentice would be locked in a room until he had finished. This made sure that there was no cheating because the Deacon would keep the key. The resulting essay would be approved or otherwise by a panel of Masters.

If you wanted to become a Master, who were the only employers, and which allowed you to have your own shop or booth in the market, you also had to own all your own tools and equipment, have a wife and a house in which to house your apprentice. Remember that the apprentice was legally indentured to his Master, who had to care for him, house and feed him and act in loco parentis.

You also had to be a Burgess or freeman of the Burgh. This was not easy. To become a Burgess required not only money and authority, but influence. No one is quite sure of the full qualifications required to become a Burgess. It seems to have been as much a matter of influence and bribery as much as anything else. The only people who automatically qualified as Burgesses were the sons and sons-in-law of existing Burgesses. Other than that one of the official qualifications appears to be that you had to hold a “Toft” or “Rood” of land and be paying a rent in the Burgh of around ten pounds a year. You also had to have your own pike or other weapon for the defence of the Burgh. A Burgess could be called out at any time for the defence of the Burgh and they were the standing army (a kind of home guard, required to drill and practice manoeuvres), which could be called out at a moment's notice. These parades were held on Corbies Hill, where Tay Street is today, or at the Magdalen Green. These parades were called “wapinshaws”; literally weapon shows.

No one could become a Master in the trades until they had their Burgess ticket. At the same time they could not become a Burgess unless they were a member of either the Guildry or the Trades, and only the Bailies could elect new Burgesses. The whole system was not only self perpetuating but, like the council, was corrupt and rotten to the core. Naturally the same family names keep cropping up regularly.
Bear in mind that in the 1500's, in a population varying from four to six thousand, there were only around 230 Burgesses and you can realise just how valuable a Burgess ticket was.


For someone who had served his apprenticeship and could not qualify as a Burgess the way forward was difficult. These men would become Journeymen. There is a false impression that this had something to with Craftsmen moving from one place to another.

The word Journey comes from the French jour meaning day, therefore Journie man meant a man paid by the day, easily corrupted into Journeyman. It is most likely that they stayed in the same employment all their working lives. Very few made the transition from Journeyman to Master without having influence. This was one reason for marrying the Masters daughter and suited both parties. The Master kept the business in the family and the new son-in-law automatically qualified for his Burgess ticket.

The Trades concern for their poor and decayed brethren was paramount in all their actions. Bear in mind that there was no pension, sick pay or social service. Starvation was the only alternative to being unable to work.

Discipline, order and control of the number of Masters, and therefore the guarantee of plenty of work and the highest possible prices were the top priority. Masters were restricted to having only one apprentice at a time.
If there were too many Masters in a trade – no problem. The Bakers simply stopped all apprentices for some 20 years.


The trades had three seats on the Burgh Council, but the Dyers were not allowed to fill one of these posts. Because of their work, the Dyers could not get the dye colour out of their skin, and the smell would have been unbearable in a close room. Thus it was not considered that they should represent the trades on the council.

The trades also had an order of precedence agreed to by the Crown. Again, this was common throughout the country. In London, for example which has 85 Trades or Livery Companies, the Tailors and Skinners could not agree who was sixth and who was seventh in order of precedence. Neither would give way. The final solution was that they would take it in turn to be sixth one year and seventh the next. This is reputed to be the origin of the phrase, to be at sixes and sevens.


The Hammermen Trade was particularly important and wealthy and this is easily explained. In 1220 Sir Michael de Moncur, founder of the Moncur's of that ilk, reputedly returned from the Crusades with David of Huntingdon and started making armour in the Burgh. He and his descendants were known for centuries as the King's Armourers in Dundee. Prior to this armour worn by noblemen and men-at-arms was made in Italy, Spain and Palestine. The armour made in these countries was probably made by Craftsmen working under the orders of the Knight's Templar.


Craftsmen were not always well behaved. In the 1550's two Cutlers were brought before the Burgh Court “for invading Deacon Sylvester Ramsay with a “whinger”; a whinger being a short sword or long dagger, In 1653 Alexander Guthrie, a saddler, was expelled from the Craft for striking the Deacon and other causes not to be publish.

In 1686 the Bonnetmakers convened to discipline David Barclay, their most misbehaved and ill disposed brother. He had already been censored, fined and rebuked for scandalous behaviour and ill neighbourhood for most of his life. He confessed his faults, was punished and ordered to behave peaceably.

David Carnegy was amerciate and fined, for refusing to sell bread to Bailie David Rollock's servant. Some personal animosity there perhaps, or it may be because in 1651 David Rollock owned the house which had been occupied earlier that year by the Duke of Buccleuch. During the Civil war, Buccleuch, like many of the Scottish nobles, brought his valuables to Dundee for safekeeping as it was the only fortified Burgh in Scotland. His daughter Anna was born there in the month of April. She later went on to marry Charles II’s illegitimate son by Lucy Walters, becoming the Duke of Monmouth: as we know he was executed after the battle of Sedgemoor after rising up against the legitimate king.

However, as an only child she was Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right. She married again and Princess Alice, who was buried shortly after her friend the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, aged 102, is a direct descendent of that same lady. Three months after Buccleuch left, General George Monck sacked the Burgh and took over the house where he lay seriously ill for some months. Perhaps politics is what made David Carnegy act as he did. The house was demolished in the 1960's in what the Press and others described as an act of pure vandalism by the City Council.


The Dundee Weavers, of course, were active in opening up the American west. The wagons in the wagon trains, which travelled from East to West, were known as prairie schooners. All the tilts or covers for the covered wagons came from the looms in Dundee. They were made from a type of close weave, which originated in the town of Nimès in France. The material was known as Serge de Nime. When the wagons reached their destination the tilts were no longer needed but there was no waste. The story goes that a clever gentleman by the name of Levi Strauss turned the fabric into trousers and “Denims” were launched on the world. The tradition is carried on today in the sense that the canvas covers for the Land Rover comes from here.

There is only one original artifact left from the battle of Trafalgar which was actually on the Victory. It is the fore topsail and measures 80ft at its foot, 54ft at the head and at 54ft deep the sail covers an area of 3,618sq. ft., pock marked by some 90 shot holes.

The sail was manufactured by Baxter who contracted various local Weavers such as Souter and Thomson of Hilltown and Airth of Arbroath, to produce the cloth. Each bolt of canvas (a bolt measured 24in wide and 38yds long) was found to be painted with blue wavy lines depicting that it was government property. The sail is now preserved, complete with shot holes, and hung from a yard arm in a temperature controlled room beside Victory.


The gavel presented to and still used by the Bonnetmaker Deacon is made of walnut from a tree planted in the grounds of Balmerino Abbey around 1566 by Mary of Guise, wife of James V, and mother of Mary Queen of Scots. A twisted Spanish Chestnut tree in the Abbey grounds dated as having been planted in the same year is still growing there today. It is a beautiful tree and should be seen before nature takes its course and it too is blown down although it is now being preserved by the National Trust for Scotland.


A Statute was passed by the Burgh Council forbidding the fleshers to slaughter their beasts outside their ‘buiths’ in the street. This was frowned upon because of the noise from the animals having their throats cut, the blood flowing down the street and of course the smell.

Bear in mind that it was quite common for the poorer people to drink a mixture of warm blood and milk, or they might mix it with oats as a nutritional meal.
Eventually the trade got round to selling the blood under contract and by 1846 was making some £55 per year (£3,038 in 2005), from this activity although a similar contract for the dung made £135, or £7,456.


There is wonderful link between the Bakers and the Fleshers. It is how Coutties Wynd, earlier known as Spalding's Wynd got its name. Spalding's Wynd was the main road from the shore, which David of Huntington would have travelled, to where St Mary's Church stands today. The Spaldings were an important family of Bakers. It is recorded that in 1510 James V was worried about the number of travellers being robbed.
To find out for himself the king under the pseudonym, the Goodman of Balindreich travelled alone with his bodyguard some distance behind him.

One day coming across the Minch, from the Mearns to Dundee, he met a Dundee Flesher by the name of Couttie, who did not recognise the king, and they travelled together happily chatting away. Soon they were set upon by robbers, and though the king and Couttie fought long and defended themselves most manfully, they being both very able men, especially the king, who it was reported was a match for any two men if not more, and Couttie having a dog with him which did more than both. The dog being a better fighter than the King somehow spoils the romance of the story.
In any event they were on the point of being beaten when they king called out who he was. The robbers fled and, as you would expect, the guard arrived too late to help. As a result the king ordered that the street in which Couttie lived should be named after him, and so Spaldings Wynd became Couttie’s Wynd. It remained after the area was redeveloped in the 1878.


Contrary to popular belief, the trades did not lose their way after the Reform Act of 1832. They had always been active in the affairs of the town. However, as business and the town expanded they played a more and more important role.

Reform had been long overdue. By the mid 1700's Masters had started to become important employers, and the word manufactory appears quite often. Many Masters became middle and even upper middle class. As a result they became better educated and more involved in the need for the town to modernise. The world was changing and reform was long overdue. The old self-perpetuating councils no longer fitted the needs of the people. Remember that each council elected its successor.

In Dundee, we must add to that the forty-year period of corruption and the behaviour of Provost Riddoch, who treated the town as his own personal fiefdom.
The trades had warmly supported Reform legislation, and argued in Parliament in its favour, despite the fact that they lost their right to seats on the council and the burghs lost the franchise. A new era had begun.

After Reform, the trades were still involved in the towns affairs. They petitioned Parliament on behalf of the Harbour Act, the Tay Ferries, The Railway Companies (the nationalisation of the railways was even being suggested by them in 1880), the Bankruptcy Bill, The Corn Laws, The Asylum, The Hospital, the Ogilvy and Morgan Bequests, the Water Bill and many more things of local and national importance.


Mort Cloth

Restoring the Coat of Arms. From left: Bea Neilson, Sandra McGregor, Innes Duffus, Elspeth Foxworth, Donald Hutcheson, Frede Wood, Eileen Rumble, Jim Merry, Maurice Speedie.

The use of the Mortcloth of each trade was a very valuable source of income. It was the practice of each trade to purchase and keep in good condition a Mortcloth for covering a deceased Master's coffin. Here is a quote from the minutes of 1682.

“The purpose of the meeting was to show the Masters the new Mortcloth. Then they ordained that: - Firstly: we statute and ordain that no one may have the use of the Mortcloth other than on a hard coffin.

Secondly: the old cloth will be used at night-time and the new cloth to be delivered and used from 8 a.m.

Thirdly: Only those who have paid the Craft dues regularly and on time may have the use of the cloth. Anyone who has not properly obeyed the ordinances of the Craft will be debarred from its use.”


Over time, many of the Trades were in danger of dying out. In the late 1700's Bonnetmakers decided to “open” their trade. This meant that they would admit suitable members who did not make bonnets. As a result the Bonnetmaker Trade is by far the largest in Dundee.
The Weavers have included masters working in polypropylene and other trades allied to weaving.

In the 1990's the Dyers agreed to admit anyone whose work involved colours or colouring. Professional photographers are therefore admitted into the Dyer Craft. The Glovers, although very small in numbers remain closed, as do the Hammerman, Flesher and Baker Trades.

The Hammermen admit Motor engineers, electrical engineers and recently computer engineers. Today, after some years in the background, they are finding a new voice in the City. They feel that they are needed as much as ever.

The trades have no political or any other affiliation, but have much of the business, medical and legal community among their members. They have the potential to be a powerful force for good in the city and are prepared to use that authority for the benefit of the city. By many charitable donations to youth for education and training and reminding the people of Dundee of their heritage they are doing all in their power to remind everyone of their history.

The Nine Incorporated Trades go from strength to strength and whatever may have been in their past, they see the future stretching ahead of them with the same sense of purpose that has kept them alive for over 800 years. To quote the Honorary Archivist “Tradition for its own sake is worthless without a vision and a purpose for the future”.