Since the 16th Century at least nine trades have advanced the interests of trade in the City of Dundee. These trades are fully autonomous but have incorporated and are known as the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee. The Nine Trades in order of precedence are:– Baxters or Bakers, Cordiners or Shoemakers, Skinners or Glovers, Tailors, Bonnetmakers, Fleshers, Hammermen, Brabeners or Websters or Weavers and Listers or Dyers.
Unlike the other Trades in Dundee, their earlier ‘Lockit Book’, in which the Acts and Statutes along with the names of all new Masters, Apprentices and Servants (journeymen) are recorded, was lost, but it presumably existed in the late 1400’s (the date of their first Charter) or certainly by the early 1500’s
The opening entry in the 1660 book states “The quilk day the bonitmaker Craft of Dundie, Reprentive, takine to consideratione the loss and want of their ould and antient bouck of their acks and kiper on ther measters neams in Register, by the storme and intakine of our forsaid brugh by the Inglisis, upon the first of September in anno a thousand six houndreth fiftie ane His now creat and made this present bouck in stead and place thereof, to contean and pres-ve our ould and antient acks and statutes that was continit in that former lost bouck by our wyse antesstours, and quhat we in our tymes can think expedient and profitable, or the neirist way for the honour of God and our own weill. And alsu for all thos that schall by the providence of God, sucsed to our bonitmaker crof of dindie in all tyms heirafter”.
In modern English this translates to “Today, the whole Bonnetmaker Craft of Dundee considered the loss and need for their old Book of Acts, and records of the names of their registered Masters, by the storming and taking of the Burgh by the English on the 1st September 1651. We now create this present book in it’s place to contain and preserve the Acts and Statutes, made by our wise ancestors, which were in the old Book, along with those that we think expedient and to our benefit, in the best way to honour God and ourselves. Also for all those who by the grace of God shall follow us in the Bonnetmaker Craft of Dundee hereafter”.
This is the only ‘Lockit Book of any of the Trades in which we find proof that it was General Monck who was responsible for the loss of an earlier book. However the Bonnetmakers do have two of their ‘Seals of Cause’. These were parchments granted by the burgh allowing the Bonnetmakers to have and elect a Deacon, and to elect senior Masters of the Craft, to frame Acts, Statutes and Ordinances for the governing of the Craft and for the protection of its members. The first of the seals of cause is dated 1496, proving that the Trade was organising itself by that date, although it may well have been in existence much earlier. A second Seal of Cause in the Trade’s possession is dated 1525. A modern translation of both these Charters is among the records of the Trade held in the office of the Clerk. The Patron Saint of the craft is the Irish Saint St. Bride and the seals of cause stipulate that the Deacon is to be elected on St. Bride’s Day. Another unusual part of the Seals of Cause is that it specifically included women in the Craft. However women were merely said to “occupy the Craft” whereas men were “Masters”.
Like the other Crafts, the Trade controlled the number of Masters by limiting them to have only one apprentice at a time, and even forbidding any apprentices for a number of years when the number of Masters was too great. In this way sufficient work was maintained for each master and the laws of supply and demand ensured that a good price was got for each bonnet. Dundee was the first Scottish Burgh to have a Bonnetmaker Craft. This is probably because the first bonnets were derived from those worn by clergymen coming from Europe. Dundee was the second burgh of Scotland and its trading and educational links with Europe made it very important and wealthy. Many merchants and nobles sent their sons to the University of Leydon to finish their education.
It is very likely therefore, that they were copied from the priests coming from from Europe, (who wore bonnets which were small versions of what were to become Dundee bonnets). George Wishart the martyr and John Knox, were frequent travellers to Europe, and wore similar bonnets.
Bonnetmakers plied their Trade from outside their houses. Sadly no Dundee bonnet exists today and there are no accurate descriptions. However we do know something about these bonnets. They were made of knitted wool, and graded as “gryt or muckle”, using 18 ounces of wool, “Mangrel”, meaning mongrel, “lang middlin”, down to “meikle” of as little as six ounces weight and all were knitted in a circular fashion.The knitter wore a broad leather belt with a slot in it through which a short post would be inserted. It was round this post that the bonnet was knitted.
Either way they were very heavy indeed and the larger ones would have been wide enough to hang down over the ears and back of the neck in very bad weather. A man would put his bonnet on in the morning along with his trousers and did not take it off again until he went to bed at night. They would be handed down from father to son, and the original saying to a young man was “You’ll never fill your fathers bunnet”. It was not until much later that the word shoes, replaced bonnet.
Dundee bonnets were black, usually worn by the middle classes, or blue, for the working classes. A few bonnets were made in russet colour. Whatever else we do know, it is certain that the “toorie” in black, blue or red was developed in Dundee. Blue bonnets became associated with the marauding folk from the highlands, and so were less popular in the Burgh..When the Highland Regiments were raised the bonnets were associated with soldiers, the famous “Blue bonnets over the Border.” By the 1700’s, however these were mostly made in Stewarton, but were known in Dundee as ‘Glasgow Bonnets’.
A likely reason why there are no Dundee bonnets left is because they were not worn by the Nobles, but only by the working classes. They were handed down from father to son until they literally fell to pieces. No one would think it necessary to keep something like that for posterity. However the National Museum of Scotland owns one or two early bonnets and we assume that they were taken from a similar style as the Dundee bonnet. Some further idea of what a Dundee Bonnet looked like can be gleaned fronm old portraits and paintings. Often in these paintings and old retainer can be seen in the background wearing a bonnet. Although the servant is incidental in the main picture, he presents a fair idea of the clothing worn at the time and perhaps this is as good a representation as will ever be found.
The dye was considered very important and at one stage the bonnets taken to Balmossie Mill for “Waulking” or fulling were returned in sealed bags. These were opened and examined by the examiners appointed by the Trade. Any whose colour was below standard was retained and given to the poor of the Craft and the Master responsible fined for producing them. Standards had to be kept high. Coarse wool, bought as fleece was carded and spun in the house and dyed in the outside yard. The oldest dye recorded was woad, often imported from Dieppe or Bordeaux. Later, when the West Indies trade developed, indigo was preferred. Indigo came in the form of hard blocks, which were ground down, made into a powder and put in a tub of urine, where it matured for some days before the wool was added and the whole lot boiled until the colour was strong and fast. It must be assumed that it was not only the colour that was strong, particularly in summer. The use of Birsall (possibly from Brazil wood) was cheaper, but caused complaints from the Magistrates and Council. Because the colour was so weak Birsall was outlawed and was the reason for the bags from Balmossie Mill, where the bonnets were fulled, being examined. Bonnetmakers, by an Act of Council, were permitted to dye their own bonnets and were not required to use the services of the Dyer Craft. This caused the Dyers great distress and helps to account for their low numbers.
The main worry about the quality of the colour was not only because the Town Council retained control over the quality of workmanship of every Trade, but because the folk living in “Rottenrow”, as the Hilltown area was known, found it very easy to knit bonnets and smuggle them into the burgh for sale undercutting the official price. Hilltown was eventually swallowed up by Dundee and latterly all the bonnet makers worked there, hence the name Bonnethill, as it was known by the locals.
The Bonnetmaker Craft was one of the few Crafts who allowed women into their ranks. These women were not allowed to become Masters in their own right or have any say in the running of the Craft, but as far as can be ascertained were wives or widows of masters. Several times an apprentice would be entered as serving the Master and his wife or whichever of them outlived the other.
Job sharing, too, was quite common, with agreements specifically detailed. For example: -“March 26, 1683. – James Carnigy hathe agried with Elspit Hog for one quarter year’s servic, week about wt James Gibson, her fie is two pond Scots; her wekly task is sixtine gryt bonets, working or spining at eightine once the pic; if ye bonet be less working the yarn is to be deliwrid bak wt the bonet, and if the bonet be mor then 18 ounc working, she is to reseawe spun yarn to our wead it, two dosn of the six pond sort at twelf ounc the pic, and two dozn and eight of the four pond sort at 8 ounc the pic.” “July 13, 1691. – Elspit Smith and James Gib hath agried with Margret Gib, her doghtar-in-lawe, and the said James, her brother, for ean year’s serwice week about; hie fie is 5 pound Scots money; her tesk is too her mother-in-lawe 32 litell bonets wickly, and too her brother James 32 litell bonets, 24 midlen, 16 mickall, all this to be observed in time of working.”
The volume of work expected from servants was quite remarkable. By around 1700 the Dundee Bonnetmakers were already in trouble. It would appear that they had not been ambitious enough and the Trade had been slowly slipping away from them to Stewarton, who were very successful at marketing their wares.
By the early 18th century things were changing rapidly and the Dundee Bonnetmakers failed to change quickly enough to survive. An extract from the Town Council Minutes of 13th October 1725 states …… “the Bonnet makers were demanding ane act to be added discharging ye Taylors from making cloath Bonnets for prejudizing ye Bonnet Makers, if the Council thought fit to grant the same; – which Act and Report being considered by the Council, they disapprove of the foresaid addition demanded by ye bonnet makers.” The writing was on the wall and the end could not be far away, more particularly because the men of Stewarton were marketing their wares successfully to the army, which of course was the biggest market available.
In 1726 “Glasgow Bonnets” as they were known were finding their way into Dundee. The Craft realised that they were being bought by their own members and being sold as being made by them. After all, by law, only goods made in the Burgh could be sold from the Market Booths and only then after they had been shown to the Bailies at the Mercat Cross, where taxes were collected. The Trade therefore decreed that anyone discovered selling these bonnets would be fined three pounds for the first offence and double for every further offence. This was a swingeing fine and must have, at the very least, driven the trade underground. This was also covered by forbidding any member to trade with another who had been caught out selling Glasgow Bonnets.
The use of a Mortcloth was a valuable source of income for the Trade. In 1682 a new one was purchased and shown to the Masters. Rules were formulated saying that the cloth could only be used on a hard coffin. The new cloth could not be used at night. The old cloth was to be used at night and the new one delivered for daytime use at 8 a.m. Finally only well behaved members and those who had always paid their dues on time could have it’s use. Even when dead, the Trade still had a hold over you.
There is no record that ‘slip coffins’ were used by the Craft. These were coffins with a hinged bottom, like a double door. As the coffin was lowered, a string was pulled opening the door. The body would slip out and the coffin removed for use at another funeral.
In 1590, Masters were condemned and punished for “playing in the fields at time of preaching”.
In 1665 a fine of Forty shillings was imposed if any Master transgressed on a Sunday, particularly if he was found drinking in a public house during the Service. Breaking the Sabbath was again condemned in 1684. Masters were given a list of fines for things like laying out their bonnets to dry, laying their clothes out to dry, hanging their fish out to dry, carrying water from the well, washing their meat, or visiting their neighbours, and particularly the taking of ale during the time of the service. If however the wife was in travail, or her children or elderly folk were sick, that would be accepted as good reason for these misdemeanours.
Misbehaved Masters were always punished regularly. In 1686 David Barclay “one of our most misbehaved and ill disposed brothers of Craft” had been censured and fined several times. Finally, having confessed to scandalous behaviour and ill neighbourhood, swore that both he and his family would behave in future and was again fined, but in addition a scale of fines for himself and his family was laid down, partly depending on exactly who was insulted. For example, insulting the Deacon cost four times as much as insulting an ordinary Member. If he was found guilty twice, he would be banished from the Craft. In other words he could no longer work and sell his own goods.Not only would this mean that he would be unemployable but the minuisters of the parish would not helpsuch a reprobate, leaving him and his family destitute. Life was hard indeed making such punishments even more effective and enhancing the power and authority of the Deacon, Boxmaster and Council of the Trade.
The last working Bonnetmaker, Adam Hill Stirton, from the Wellgate was entered into the Craft in 1796 and died at home in the Hilltown just before his hundredth birthday in 1848.
The oath taken by the new Master was similar to that of all the other Crafts (They were presumably written by the Clergy) and had great religious significance. However in September 1797, one Alex. Robertson refused to take this oath and promised only “declaring as an honest man, to be a peaceable member of society, and of his Craft, to promote the interests of this Craft, and of the widow and orphan belonging thereto, and to do nothing prejudicial thereto, and to endeavour to make concord where discord is”.
This was accepted by the Craft. The original oath was never used again and this is the form of words used by men entering the Trade today.
In 1819 only one Bonnetmaker was left in the Craft. The Nine Trades were fighting hard for Reform of the Burgh, mainly due to the corruption of the self-electing councils, and partly through the domination by Provost Alexander Riddoch who had controlled the burgh, mostly for his own ends, for 40 years. Because the Bonnetmaker Craft sided with Riddoch (the sole remaining Bonnetmaker being one of the Council ‘Junta’ as the Trades called Riddoch’s cronies), the Nine Trades claimed that because of their small numbers, they should not have a Trades vote in these affairs. The Guildry also complained bitterly about the Bonnetmakers. The Bonnetmakers answer was to enact that that they could enlist paying, but non-operative members, so that they could have a membership large enough to claim proper representation in the Nine Trades deliberations and retain their seat on the Town Council.
That squabble made the Bonnetmakers the first “open “ Craft and undoubtedly saved them as a Craft today, albeit as a social and charitable organisation with no Craft members.
Today the membership is strongly representative of the professions, as well as the business community. The legal, medical and accountancy professions are very much at home as Bonnetmakers, and the craft now has by far the largest membership of all.
Several of the Earls of Airlie, including the present Earl were welcomed into the Craft. Dukes of Atholl, the Earl of Camperdown and the Duke of Gloucester are among the famous names recorded as Honorary Members.
In 1902, Andrew Carnegie, the famous philanthropist became an Honorary member. The present Seal of the Craft was specially designed and made for that ceremony. The Seal was first used on the Certificate given to him at that time, and as a gesture he presented the craft with a 1,000 Dollar Gold Bond of the United Steel Corporation.
The Duke of Kent became an Honorary member in 1933, when 171 Bonnetmaker’s attended the ceremony. The Trade presented him and his wife Princess Marina with a gate-leg table on the occasion of their marriage. On 30th July 1904, Sir James Ritchie, a Dundonian and the then Lord Mayor of London, joined the Craft. A photograph commemorating the admission is in the keeping of the Clerk.
he staff still carried by the Deacon today is now over 200 years old. It was presented to the Craft by Peter Reid of Leslie in 1905. It was described at that time as the staff “used by the Deacons 100 years ago”.
In 1938, Thomas Winton, a Bonnetmker, presented the Gavel used at Meetings of the Craft to the craft. It 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. The tree had been blown down in a gale in 1935. Much of the wood went to line Government Buildings in Whitehall, but a chair made from the same tree was presented to Dundee Public Library and is presently in the keeping of the McManus Galleries.
In 1968 at the formation of the new Dundee University a bonnet was presented by the Craft, which has on it their crest, hand-embroidered by the wife of past Deacon Sibbald. This bonnet is used at all ‘Capping’ Ceremonies of students on their graduation from the University.
A similar presentation was made when Dundee College of Technology was upgraded to Abertay University.
The Craft meets regularly, takes part in all the Nine Trades business and has produced many Deacon Conveners of the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee. Presently the largest of the Crafts, it has survived by changing to fit the times. The Bonnetmaker Craft had proved to be the nautral home for Dundee citizens working in the fields of Medicine, Law and Accountancy among many others in the business community. The Craft can only survive by being relevant in the world of today and the energy and enthusiasm shown by the members with regard to its educational and charitable work is as important to the City today as it has been for over 500 years. There may be no operative Bonnetmakers left, but the spirit of the Craft will last as long as the Members find that they can be of service to the City of Dundee.