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.
THE word ‘Tailor’ is derived from the French ‘Trap’ meaning cloth and thus ‘Trapier’, a seller of cloth. This was corrupted into the English form ‘Tailor’. Although the Tailor Trade has long lost its Seal of Cause there is mention of one in a Burgh record of Documents confirming a Tailor Seal of Cause of 1525. This fits with the approximate dating of the Seals of Cause of the other Trades. The Tailor ‘Lockit Book’, the book which contains all the Masters entered into the Craft along with it’s more important Acts and statutes, was opened in 1577. However the Trade, as we have seen, had been in existence before that date and it already had a Deacon, recorded as Dauid Watsone, and the Minute was signed by 28 members. An apprenticeship was decreed to be for a period of five years with an extra year “for meit and fie”, meaning that the new Journeyman received payment by a mixture of food and cash. This later developed into the term “improver”, which lasted until the mid 20th century, and was partly a way of the journeyman gaining extra experience but also his employer getting cheap labour for an extra year.
The earliest Oath taken by members on entering the Trade reads: “Copie of the Oath to be taken by Intrant Masters to the Taylor Trade of Dunde. I shall be leall and true to our Soveraigne Lord the King, the Provost Baillies and Councell of the burgh of Dunde, Convener and Deacons of craft of the sd burgh, and to the Deacon of the Taylor Trade, present and to come, I shall maintain and defend the word of God, & his avengell which is presently profest among us, so farr as lies in me, and shall never decline yrfrae, I shall obey my Deacon of Craft, and obtemper and fulfill all laws and statutes, made or to be made, for the liberty of my sd Craft, & welfare yrof, I shall make concord among my Bretheren where discord is, fortifie the common weil, and use myself uprightly in my calling; I shall relieve the poor and needy; and help & support the widow and orphans; after my power; I shall use no fraudfull dealing; I shall also use no unfreemans goods under collour of my own; I shall assist the Deacon and Bretheren of Craft; in all respects that tends to the liberty of the said Craft; I shall come to the Houf or any other place appointed for convention when I am charged by the officer; I shall never contraveen directly nor indirectly; the will of my Deacon & Bretheren of Craft; I shall be no mutineir nor raiser of tumults; nor discords among my Bretheren; By the holy name of God the Father Son and holy Ghost.” This had been amended over the years to suit the times and beliefs of the Members and is now:
Sumptuary Laws decreed the kinds of clothing that could be worn. Men were restricted to hose and doublets of blue canvas or fustian trussed with leathern points; the women’s kirtles of home woven wool, and their curches of moderately priced linen, fashioned by themselves. Burgers “unless dignitie as gude worthy men of the council” were not to wear clothes of silks, or costly scarlet gowns; while the wives and daughters were to be correspondingly attired – their clothes not of “unsuiting length, nor furrit under, but on the haliday”. However these laws were not strictly observed. In general the burgher was more likely to wear hose of Fleming grey or perhaps “lang breeks” of grey or blue; a doublet of green taffeta or of damask and a cloak of russet or Kendal cloth. His wife would wear a green or red kirtle, with gowns of brown or russet with a black mantle and a linen coverchief often enriched with embroidery. In 1567 the Law stated “that it be lawful to na wemen to weir dress abone ther estait except howris”.
In 1521 there were no erratic changes in the fashion of garments, yet, as their business was to make the clothes of women as well as men, they formed a large craft and normally followed their calling in the houses of their customers, but were also found in heir own workshops.
“John Stewart, talzour, grantit that he set to Walter Car ane sufficient talzour buith, and Walter protestit, gif the buith be nocht halden sufficient without impediment of reik of the nether houses, that he may provide at this next term for ane sufficient buith in some other place.”
Women were also working in the Trade from the earliest times. Of course they could never be members, but were contracted to work in a minor capacity. An interesting quote from 1551 refers to a young woman who alleged that she had been hand-fasted to a man, and is suffered to leave her place between terms for the purpose of living with him; but on condition that she should serve in his house only. “Jonet Straton grantit her feeit servant to Thomas Logie, tailzour, [but] allegit that Watte Hog and sho was contractit. Whairfore Thomas protestit that gif Jonet made service within this burgh to ony other man than Watte Hog, that he micht have her fee.”
Tailors frequently worked in the homes of their customers. This made it very difficult for them to control “unfree” tailors. Unfreemen were possibly excellent tailors who had not been entered into the Craft.
In order to reslove this problem the tailors approaced the council who decreed in 1551, “the complaint made be Thomas Kid, deacon, and his brethren upon unfreemen tailzours whilk wirk and occupy their craft, the Bailies ordain their officers to pass with the deacon and his officer, to search all outmen tailzours wirking their occupation, and cause them find surety to answer as law will.” Ultimately a number of unfree tailors, as well as bonnetmakers, found refuge in the Constable’s domain of the Hilltown, beyond burghal jurisdiction, and there, for a time, pursued their calling much to the discontent of the regular craft. These tradesmen from the Hilltown were a constant problem to all the trades in this respect. Only the Tailors were pragmatic enough to realise that they could not stop this practice completely. By 1681 they allowed tailors from the Hilltown to work in specified areas of the burgh under an annual licence and strict controls. Eventually, in 1765, they permitted the tailors from the Hilltown to have a vote in electing the Tailor Trade’s Deacon and even elect their own Deacon and Boxmaster acting under the supervision of the Dundee Trade.
By 22 November 1790 the Hilltown masters wrote to the Trade offering to purchase their freedom to trade in the town. They offered to pay Three pounds Ten shillings and eight pence Sterling as full payment of their dues on being entered as free Masters. This was agreed.
Behaviour was never exemplary however. In 1552 we find the case of a tailor who although he was not “proved to be little better than a false knave” is exemplary punished “for going near to be thought so” James Richardson, “tailzour, being accusit for pickerie (stealing). It adjudgit to be punishit with twelve straike with ane double belt, because ther could be nae sufficient proof gotten, but vehement syuapicion; and syne to be banishit this burgh for year and day.” Such misbehavior was also punished by the Craft itself. In 1601 “Walter Couper, sone to David Couper, Frieman of said Craft” was “discharged of his libertie within the burgh for ever” because of his regular violent behaviour. After further violent years he repented and eventually was appointed Deacon of the Craft, giving hope in the event of similar happenings today.
In 1698 the Convener of the Nine Trades complained about the bad behaviour by Deacon William Lornie towards him whilst exercising his office. The Nine individual trades considered this and agreed that Deacon Lornie was guilty of this offence on a regular basis. He was fined in the sum of five pounds Scots and barred from further meetings even of his own trade. If the Tailors did allow him access to meetings they in turn would be fined £20 Scots every time this happened. Severe punishment indeed.
Prior to 1787 the Trade had, by a bye-law, imposed a fine upon all members who were not present at the funeral of a free master, the same to be paid to the Boxmaster. The members, Instead of this, had for some time past met after a funeral, and spent the fines in drink. “It was this day resolved – that the Trades disapprove of this practice, and ordain that in future the fines shall be paid to the Boxmaster for behoof of the Trade, as was formerly done.” In 1702 there were problems between the Tailors and the Bonnetmakers. It appears that the Bonnetmakers, whose bonnets were woven, had been making bonnets of linen. The Tailor Trade took the matter to the Convener Court of the Nine Trades for a decision. The Bonnetmakers agreed “that wee nor non in our names be our orders shall not make bonnets of cloath within the burgh of Dundee, Hilltoun yrof or liberties of the same at no tyme efter the dait of thir prests”. This was under penalty of Ten pounds Scots money. Disputes among the trades were invariably settled by the Convener or Master Fund Court of the Nine Trades.
There is a record of the cost of entertainment on the “Expenses paid by David Clark connected with his entry to the Tailor Trade, being an account thereof written by himself, viz.:–
Dundee, the 30th day of March, 1779, which day Davd Clark was Entred to the
Taylor Trade, per
To 5 shillings to James Hunter 5/0
To Bieiff 10/6
To Bier 7/6
To Rum 5/0
To Flouer Bread, and Meat Rostg 2/0
To Chise and Salt and Candel 2/6
To tobaco and Pips 1/2
To the First Court after Entre 6/6
To may Fredom to the Town of Dundee for my Life Time £2/15/7
this Grat Feast was keipt in our own Taylors’ Roum. I think 36 members
Atested by me
(Signed) David Clark
The entertainment part alone equates to £1,091.40 in the year 2002 showing just how expensive it was to become a Master. Bear in mind this was in addition to all his other Craft dues and does not include the Burgess Fee.
Naturally there were problems within the Trade itself. An entry of 26 March 1772 reads “…no member of the Trade shall pay any Meall money either to the said John Stewart or Patrick Miller, Except they be both present. And that the said John Stewart and Patrick Miller Shall be obliged to pay the money they collect to David Jobson Writer in Dundee for behoof of the Trade and that each day after collection”.
John Stewart “laid hands” on the Minute Book and blotted out the entry. The Trade ordered the entry to be re-inserted and it was pasted over the blotted out original, which can still be seen. There is no record of why John and Patrick were not deemed to be trustworthy as there is no punishment meted out to them, but they would not be the first, or last, Office-Bearers of one of the Trades to be in trouble regarding a Trade’s finances.
Unnecessary spending was visited on 24th August 1723. It would appear that the Boxmaster had been in the habit of squandering the funds on ‘entertainment’ . The Trade decreed that in future “no Boxmaster shall be allowed Credit on his accompt for any sum whatever to be spent on the trades accompt further than the sum of Five shillings which is allowed either to give to the Trade’s Tenants or to be spent with them at receiving the Rents”. It was also agreed that at the Michaelmas or election entertainment each member of the Trade, whether present or not should pay the sum of One Shilling Sterling and that only this sum and no more be spent on the entertainment. This still represented a large sum on food and drink.
In 1728 and 1738 two Manty (Mantua, a woman’s loose gown) makers were accused of making “womens cloaths” without being free to the Trade. The Magistrates fined them twelve pounds and ordered them to find caution of £40 Scots which would be the fine for each transgression.
Jonet Sands accused Sande Loke, tailor with keeping back some of the cloth that should have gone into her kirtle, “he producit the kirtle in judgement,” and having opened up its seams, “it wes laid upon ten quarters of new cloth like breid, and wes fund nocht minishit be the craftsman. [On this], the Bailies ordainit Sande to sew up the kirtle agains Monoday, and bring it again that ane mends may be decernit be the judges.”
By 1783, on the other hand, there were 11 Milliners recorded in the Dundee Register, showing that women were working in the business of making clothes for ladies without any dificulty, although naturally, being women, they were never allowed to enter the Trade. The same Register records that there were 43 working tailors in the burgh.
In 1775 Boxmaster James Duncan was found to be short of some of the money collected for the sale of meal. He was suspended, but not having repaid the money the Trade had him imprisoned as a debtor. He was released on paying five pounds to the Trade and agreeing to pay one pound ten shillings annually until the debt of Twenty pounds five pence Sterling (£1523.20 in 2002) was fully repaid.
On the other hand, in the same year, the Trade, in consideration of the great trouble the Deacon had taken with the affairs of the Trade during his management unanimously voted him a suit of clothes to the value of four pounds. Problems regularly arose regarding wages paid to journeymen. In 1795, it was reported that the Journeymen tailors refused to work unless their wages were raised to Nine Shillings Sterling each week. The Trade took the matter to the Justices of the Peace. The Justices recommended the sum of eight shillings per week. In 1804 the Journeymen again demanded a pay increase, this time by an extra three shillings per week. The Trade considered this unreasonable, although they do not record the outcome. This was not to be the end of the matter however and the subject of wages was a thorny issue thereafter.
By 1805 the Trade was concerned that their finances were so low that they would soon have trouble in sustaining their poor. Therefore they enacted new dues of entry.
“Which day the Taylor Trade of Dundee being met in their Hall Consulting about their ordinary Affairs and Taking into consideration the Just regard that is due to the Good of the Trade and the Poor thereof As Also the present value of money. Agreed and hereby do Agree that from and after the date hereof the dues to be paid to the Trade by persons to be admitted Masters and Members thereof shall be as follows viz:
By an Unfreeman Thirty Pounds
By a Freemans Son, Eight Pounds and
By a Freemans Son in Law, Ten Pounds, All Sterling money.
On Booking a Free Apprentice who is or shall be bound five years or more to a Master and Member whose Indenture shall be produced within the first Twelve Months of his Apprenticeship there shall be paid Two Pounds Sterling and on the said Apprentice entering a Free master & Member he shall pay Twenty Pounds Sterling.”
In 1813 Mrs Strachan, a widow, appealed to the trade for help in supporting her family. The trade decided on practical help rather than give her money and raised a subscription to buy her a mangle. One ‘of very superior sise and Construction’ was ordered. She had to agree that if she married again or became infirm the mangle would be returned to the trade. 21 years later Mrs Strachan became old and infirm and tried to sell the mangle. The trade were having none of this and demanded the return of the mangle. The following year her daughter died and Mrs Strachan was given £1:10/- by the trade to help defray the funeral expenses. The Trade finally recovered the mangle on her death in 1838, at which time it was sold, the money being put into the Trade’s funds. Mrs Strachan had also received a widow’s pension for some 22 years, showing that the Trade looked after its dependents very well indeed.
Journeymen Tailors were obviously employed on a casual basis. On 29 April 1825, there is reference to the “Thistle house of Call”. In these days Journeymen would visit an Inn or Hostel known as a “House of Call”. Information about work was to be had in these premises, very much as an employment agency works today. These men would often be allowed to work on short term agreements. A letter was sent from the three men operating this house to say that “we, if required, were to be found there at 8.45 the following Monday”. The letter also stated “that the Master is to be denied the use of Weomen”. In case of any misunderstanding they added “that is they must not be imployed”. As if a fine upstanding body of men like the Tailors would fail to have understood the original meaning.
Before entering the Trade as a master, the Apprentice would be required to pass a trade test known as an “Essay” or “Masterpiece”. Happily, unlike many other trades there is reference to what was required in the Tailor Trade. In 1829 James Mathew was “to cut, sew and in every way finish a Suit of Clothes to entire satisfaction of the above named Essay Masters, they being to overlook the performing of the work.” He performed the Essay “to their satisfaction and in a skilful and tradesmanlike manner”.
And in 1830, James Murison, who the trade had earlier fined for working as an unfree tailor, meaning that he was not a master of the Trade, was “to cut and sew a dress coat for a person nominated by the Trade”. Again the work was to be overseen by Essay Masters working in two hour shifts. The making of the coat was duly supervised and examined as being finished and that “each of them had examined the work and concurred in their opinion that it was quite insufficient, and shewed that Mr Murison was not qualified for carrying on the tailor trade”. He was not admitted to the trade although perhaps there is a suspicion that his previous defiance may have had something to do with the decision. Mr Murison made trouble for the trade for several years, finally taking his case to the Court of Session. The Trade lost the case and were required to pay all legal expenses. By this time however, the Reform Acts were being introduced, when the Burghs lost the franchise and the Trades their privileges. Thus the way was opened for anyone to trade without having first being a member of a Trade Incorporation. Mr Murison never did became a member of the Tailor Trade of Dundee. In 1912 the Tailor Trade opened its membership to anyone engaged in the trade of clothiers, cutters etc., on payment of Three pounds nine shillings and six pence, in addition to the fees of the Nine Trades and their Clerk. In 1719 the Trade had fined a watchmaker for employing unfreemen to make “cloaths and bodily abulziements” for him and his family. He was bound under £40 Scots “in case of failzie”. This is in stark contrast to what became common practice in the 19th century. At that time a company would employ their own tailor on a permanent basis. The present day Cooper & Mackenzie started business in this way. In 1874 Adams & Cushnie were potato merchants. They employed a tailor and later worked in a dual capacity as Tailors and Potato Merchants. After several bad harvests, they dropped the potato merchant business and became full time tailors. The business was taken over by head cutter Mr J. D. Mitchell, not related to the present owners, on the death of Mr Adams. The business then traded as J. D. Mitchell. The business was later taken over by Mr J. C. MacKenzie who, in 1918, was joined by the grandfather of the present owners. In 1946 the well known furrier George Cooper was purchased and the name used today, Cooper & McKenzie, was adopted.
Reform Street was then the ‘Saville Row of Dundee’, there being well over a dozen tailors working there. Tailors at that time would be seen going to work wearing morning tails and silk hats.
The skill required to be a qualified tailor cannot be overestimated. He would make a minimum of 20 measurements for the jacket alone. There were also comments for the cutters; slight round back; bad stance; head forward; very square; thin neck; tall; erect; square; and many more. Indeed most firms had their own shorthand where the instructions were more to the point and far from flattering. In addition was the style, such as single breasted; double breasted; the number of pockets; vents; buttons etc. Was a turn up required on the trousers, were they self supporting, did the customer require a zip or buttons? Many customers, some living outwith the area, would order anything up to five suits at a time with only a final fitting made on the premises. Similarly top coats would be measured and cut using notations to describe the customer,
In the 1950’s Dundee there were as many as 44 Tailor shops in and around the city centre. Of these at least 12 still had a hand-made facility for making suits on the premises. Today, in 2005, only the wealthier members of society can afford a bespoke suit. As ever, life has indeed gone full cycle.
Bringing this short history up to date, the Tailor Trade is still carrying on the charitable work which was one of the main purposes of its formation. Help for the poor of the Trade is still an objective, although great care has to be taken that any such assistance does not affect Social Security and other benefits. The Trade has also been very active in other respects. In recent times, in addition to funding a bursary, it has established a student prize in the Textiles Department of Dundee College.
With a healthy membership and regular meetings, it continues to take a prominent part in the affairs of the Nine Trades and of those working in the clothing business.The Tailor Trade looks forward with optimism to a long and useful future.