THREE UNITED TRADES
The Three United Trades of Dundee are the building trades, the Masons, Wrights and Slaters.
Despite the fact that they had been organised for hundreds of years they did not finally get their Charter to Incorporate until 1741.
Nonetheless, in 1480, James I ruled “Of wrichtes and masons – for quhy it is complained that these trades take on hand monie warke whilkis they will not fulfil at the time they hecht. Therefore it is ordained that nane tak mair wark on hand than they can do, under paine of tinsell of the price of what he cannot fulfil. And other men of the Craft may do the wark, and if they refuse they shall be punished at the King’s will”. Can you imaging a builder today taking on work that he could not finish on time?
However, in 1592 James VI had already given liberty, freedom and power to all Masons, Wrights, Slaters and other Craftsmen in Dundee “that wirkis by the square reule; lyne; or compass under the airt of geoimitrie” to elect courts and assemblies as freely as any other Craft. This was an unusual Royal Warrant, but it was not implemented, and it seems to have been forgotten.
In 1629 the Three Trades in Dundee petitioned the King to give them a Charter. John Myln, a Mason and Hendrie Kinros, an Advocate, argued the case for the Crafts.
It was turned down on the grounds that the Burgh Council was the only body with authority to give Charters to trades.
The Burgh had already refused the request on the grounds that it would be a likely cause of riots and disturbance among the populace. It would seem that the building trades were not held in good standing in Dundee.
The John Myln who argued the case for the trades was appointed King’s Master Mason only two years later. We will read more of the Myln family.
One important reason given for incorporating the Three Trades in 1741 was, not so much for the protection of the trades themselves, but to let them group together to buy meal in bulk. This was common in all the Trades.
Half the meal was to be divided among the Wrights and the other half equally between the two other trades. This gives some idea of how large the Wrights were when compared with the other two.
However, the Three United Trades, despite having a Clerk, were very poor and careless record keepers. The Lockit book of the Masons has some 256 names.
Signatures of those attending from the Minutes brings up a number of over 350. There must be even more, especially when one considers that at one time no names could be entered because the holder of the key to the Book was out of town for months. Much the same happens to the Wrights and Slaters.
Perhaps because of their small number they all knew one another and in the case of the Masons, they would also be a Member of a Lodge and everyone would know that they were in good standing.
As Pendicles of the Guildry, the Three United Trades had no official standing in the affairs of the town.
They held no seats on the council and so were always playing catch up. The Three Trades wanted a say in the conduct of affairs. Any time a new public body was being set up, the Trades’ Kirk built, when the Harbour was being rebuilt, the Hospital, the Watt Institute or the Asylum were endowed, in fact in any and every development in Dundee the Three Trades requested and indeed sometimes demanded to be involved. They gave funds for these developments and had seats on the various Boards of Governance. Much of this was done, not through the Guildry, but with the Nine Trades and the two were always on friendly terms.
The Trades got together with the Kirk Session to build the Trades’ Kirk, St. Andrew’s Church. The Three Trades paid a quarter of the Nine Trades share. This was a fair representation of the numbers in the various Trades in 1776.
In 1840 the three City Churches, were destroyed by fire. William Burns, an Architect from Edinburgh, planned the restoration.
The plans were submitted to the Trades and the Three Trades were very critical of his proposals damming them as being “a miserable and patched piece of work”.
They gave their detailed reasons, and demanded that Mr Burns be told to prepare new plans without delay. The town duly complied with this request.
The smallest of the three is the Slater or Sclaiter Trade. The total number of Masters is only 102 although there are nearer 200 recorded as being present at meetings.
Some slates came from the Howe of Strathmore and the Stannergate. The Stannergate meaning the road from the town to the slate quarry.
The lane leading from the south side of Nethergate to the shore, later called Sea Wynd, was earlier known as the “Sklaitt Wynd”.
The road from the town over the Sidlaw Hills to the Strathmore quarry was nothing more than a track along which only pack horses could travel in the 1600’s. Consequently it was cheaper to ship slates from Ballachulish in Argyllshire than the 10 or so miles by pack horse.
The original word for the trade was “Sclaiter”. In earlier times houses were roofed with either thatch or shingles. It is common to call wood lice “sclaters”. Shingles are made of wood, and the old French name for a shingle is “esclait”?. It takes very little imagination to corrupt the word Sclaiter into Slater.
There is an entry in the Exchequer Rolls of 1427 recording that 20lib. was paid to William de Law and his partners “sclaiters” for stone tiles used to repair Linlithgow Palace.
In 1555 the Edinburgh Burgh Records have an entry under the repairs to St Giles Cathedral “item for 3,900 Dundie Sklaytts to the body of the Kirk, fra the Stepill west to the West Kirk dor, price of the 1000, 19lib. Item for the carriage of the same to the town ilk thousand 13/8d”.
David Cockburne a Master Slater, who exported slates, died prior to 1608, leaving his business in the hands of his widow Marjorie Forrester. The Trade objected to her acting as a “Master Slater”, but the Provost, and Council, found that she had done “gude and rede seruice” to the burgh in supplying slates for repairing public buildings, especially for the “reparatione and thack and ruif of the tolbuith.” They allowed her freely to use “hir tred in bying, selling and transporting of sklettis to and fra the burgh.”
At this time there was “an inconvenient dearth of sclates, quhilk for sometime had been caused through forestallers buying them without the town, and transporting the samin till Leith and Edinburgh, and all other places, to the grite hurt of the common weill”.
Another Council Record states: “Henry Broun, seruegian, hes tane to prove that David Hay, sklaiter, pointit nocht his houses sufficiently, but put twa or three lads to the lawbour, whilk left them waur nor they enterit with them.” On hearing evidence, the Bailies “decernit David to mend the drops in Broun’s ludging.”
In 1667 the entry fee for Masters included the obligatory dinner given to the whole trade or £4 plus a pint of wine to each master.
There were always problems to the population by having to quarter soldiers in times of trouble. In 1762 the Slaters petitioned the council to be relieved of this burden claiming “the Sclaiters were always very assisting with ladders for extinguishing fires when kindled in this Burgh” and had never accepted payment for this service. The appeal worked and the Council agreed to the petition.
Initially the Slater’s paid into their poor fund at the rate of one penny Sterling per Rood of Work.
Shortage of money was a problem and in 1846 ‘the custom of sitting down to supper on St. Stephen’s night, the expense of which being paid from the Trades funds” came to an end.
The Slaters shared their Clerk with the other Two Trades and they lost most of their money when Mr Haggard, the Clerk, became bankrupt and they to accept 2/- in the pound. They tried to claim against the Scottish Provident Investment Company where their money was reputedly invested. This Company had also been in liquidation and all its Books destroyed by order of the Court of Session.
By 1926 after a break in the entries of 57 years there was only one member left in the Trade. His name was Fyffe and he met with himself regularly and re-elected himself Deacon. But there was something strange about the good Deacon Fyffe. As far back as 1917 David Law, a Slater had tried to join the trade. His request was recorded and various dates and times were set for his entry into the trade. For a variety of reasons Deacon Fyffe was always unable to attend at the last minute.
Deacon Fyffe was sadly killed in an accident, leaving the trade with no living members.
However in 1926, some 9 years after his first application, Mr Law took the Three Trades to the Court of Session, when he was formally declared a member of the Slater Trade. The Trade had to pay the costs of the case. Two days later Mr Law signed the lockit book as the only remaining member and at the same time he entered Charles Brand, allowing the trade to be up and running again.
The Wrights had at least three times the membership of the others. They comprised three different groups of men, the joiners, squarewrights (cabinetmakers) and glaziers. Within the trade there was no discord among the groups. Cabinetmakers, for example, did not appear to hold themselves as of a higher status than glaziers. Glaziers, of course, did not simply put in pieces of glass. Think of all the lead work connected with old style windows
Much of the history of the Wrights runs parallel with the rest of the trades and there is little need to repeat the details of raising cash for the poor and needy, or detail their Acts and Statutes.
The Trade did record some of the essays given to tradesmen wishing to qualify as Masters. Diverse items such as a carpenter’s toolbox, a sofa table, a six panelled bound door, a breakfast table, a rudder case for a ship, a mahogany dressing table, an elbow chair of laburnum, a Pembroke table, a clock case, a sash window and a pair of mahogany bed pillars. A Guilder and Carver was asked to make a Dressing box.
In 1784 the Journeymen got together and declared that they would withdraw their labour unless they got a pay rise. The trade refused and, eventually, won their case.
Journeymen getting together to act as a group is very forward looking and it implies that they had some kind of organisation. Was it in Dundee that the Trade Union movement was started?
In 1808, the Masters reduced the journeymen’s wages by 2/- per week. This brought the pay down to 15/- per week. Times must have been hard because there were no complaints.
Two years later, in June 1810, the Journeymen wrote asking for an increase of 2d per shilling (30 pence) to their wages.
The Trade wrote to the Wrights in Edinburgh, Perth, Arbroath and Montrose asking their rates of pay. Finding that they paid less than in Dundee, they refused the increase.
Squarewrights or cabinetmakers were the members of the trade responsible for making “deidkists” or coffins.
Mortcloths were of particular value to the Wright Trade. They owned up to seven at any one time, all with different charges. This of course makes sense, bearing in mind that the Wrights were the original undertakers. The Wrights carried out the burials in the burgh.
In 1821 the charges for coffins were:
Covered Coffin Hospital dues 4/6d.
Covered Coffin where little ornament is used 2/6d.
All coffins Made for persons under 12 Years of age to be considered small Coffins & to pay half dues.
Charges for the Mort Cloths in 1823 varied from 4/6d. for Cloth No 1. to 1/6d for No 7. These were the charges for both the Cloth and the Officer. Bearers dues were set at 2/3d. each.
The Officer was paid 2/- for delivering any number of letters below 60, 6/- per score above that number. Letters would have been he only way of inviting friends to a funeral at that time as Newspapers were very expensive and few ordinary people would have bought one.
The Trade also employed “Sallies”. They were older or unfit members. The trade does not describe exactly what the Sallies were. However, they were dressed in a top coat, with gloves supplied by the trade. It is the writers belief that the title comes from the old Scots word for the willow tree. The Sally was the tree of mourning and there is mention elsewhere in history of professional mourners carrying branches of willow.
Personal feelings came to the fore from time to time. In 1828 there was a complaint from one Sally about another, claiming that he kicked him up the backside, whilst attending a funeral.
In 1825 new Regulations for the dues payable at the burial ground were read to the Meeting. The Meeting agreed that resolutions disapproving of the same should be drawn up and published in the newspapers so that the public would know that the new charges were not the Trades fault.
Prices for work were strictly governed. In 1802 the charges are listed and can be seen in the records following.
Problems inevitably arose with men of three trades working on the same property. In 1803 the Masons wrote to the Wrights asking if they condoned a Master from either Incorporation employing journeymen from the other trades working on his own building.
The Wright Trade’s Deacon was caught employing two masons after six o’clock at his house in Tay Street. Obviously the problems of ‘homers’ was well established.
The main timber was American Yellow pine, Baltic battens, Birch timber, Wainscot, American Ash and Cedar, Honduras mahogany and Spanish Mahogany.
In 1841, the Timber Merchants of Dundee were selling their American Timber by Calliper instead of by String Measure. This meant that the buyer was paying for more than the free contents on logs not fully square.
The Trade checked with other ports of Scotland and found that string measure was used universally. The trade therefore resolved to stop this practice.
Although the Lockit Book does not start until 11th March 1659 records of the existence of Masons are easier to find than the others.
In 1491 the king decided that the Trade was abusing its position by restrictive practices. He therefore banned the Deacons from having any authority for one year other than examining of the quality of workmanship.
He also decreed “That Maisons and Wrichtes and uther men of Craft wha statutis that they sall have fee, alsweill for the halie daie as for the wark day, sall be indicted as common oppressors and punished accordingly”.
The opening of the lockit Book book dated 11th March 1659 reads, in translation, “this day we of the lodge of Dundee Masters and free men having met and taking to consideration the great damage we sustain in not having had a recognised body of our number, now with the blessing of God herby Statute and Ordain… In the same way any Master or Fellow within the Lodge who takes his brother’s work, provided his brother is willing and able to do the work, will be fined 40/- Scots.
Next comes a brief invocation or prayer. The Invocation comes from the opening of a copy of the Masonic “Old Charges”.
It reads “The Might of the father of Heaven with the Wisdome of the Glorious sone and the Grace and Goodness of the Holie Ghost be with us at our beginning and give us grace so to goweren us heir in our lyffe that we may come to his bliss that never shall have ending Amene”.
The earliest version of the ‘Old Charges’ Freemasonry goes back to 1400. Among the records of the Dundee Mason Trade is a rare 17th century text of the ‘Old Charges’.
It looks very much as if this is an Incorporation made official by the Burgh which has been grafted on to an existing Lodge, but there are no Masonic Lodge details in the archives of the Mason Trade.
There is a rare copy of an Indenture dated 1536, in the City Archives, between the Council and George Boiss, mason appointing him “as his daily work in the labour in the craft of mason, using the best and most perfect workmanship that he can perform at the work of the Kirk or the day to day work of the said burgh, or any other work within the burgh that the town require of him at any time… and to exercise the highest standard of workmanship, exclusively, daily and hourly for this work by the standards of ‘old use and customs of our Lady Lodge of Dundee’ as performed in times past”.
In summer he was to work from 5 am, until 8 am, and after a half hour break, to carry on until a two hour rest from 11.30 am till 1.30 pm. Finally he was to work until 4 pm. before taking a half-hour break and continuing until 7 pm.
During winter, when the light was to poor to see at 5 am or 7 pm he was to work as soon as the light permitted and work until the light failed, without a meal break or exercise.
George was granted, for life, a fee of twenty four pounds Scots paid every half quarter as in the ‘old practise of our Lady Lodge’. Also if George was asked, and the town agreed, he could carry out work for the Crown, or any other Lord or Gentleman.
If George was injured or fell ill for the space of forty days continually his fees were to be paid during that period.
He was allowed an apprentice for seven years, and as that apprenticeship finished, to take another apprentice, ensuring that he was not too young.
This contract would have been written in Latin and torn in two. The council would have the part with George’s signature and George the part with the Burgh Seal attached.
The Mercat Cross had been built by a member of the Myln family by the name of John Mylne. On the lower part of the pillar was inscribed the initials I. M., being John Mylne, the King’s master-mason. He was admitted a free burgess. John was of a family who belonged hereditarily to the craft, and has produced famous masons and architects, who erected important buildings throughout the kingdom. He constructed the bridge at Perth, which was destroyed in 1621, almost before it had been finished.
He lies in the Grayfriar’s burying-ground there, and the inscription on his tomb-stone records that:
“His learned art did lay
The spacious arches of the bridge of Tay
Which [w]as demolish’d by a mighty spate.”
and concludes –
“That in his sonne,
And sonne’s sonne, he lives for two for one;
Who to advance Miln’s art and fame,
Make stocks and stones speak out his name.”
An inscription over the door of Mary’s Chapel Mason Lodge in Edinburgh, commemorates his son’s son, who died in 1667, as
“John Mylne, who maketh the fou[r]th John,
And by descent from father unto son,
Sixth master-mason to a royal race
Of Seven successive kings.”
After the turret head of St Mary’s Tower, ‘the old steeple’ was strengthened in 1607, there is no further mention of its defects; but trouble did come again, and the Council having looked to their defences, “concludit that the turne-pyk upon the steeple be presently repaired – and that with stone-work; and for that effect” they gave “commission to the Bailies and the treasurer to agree with John Mylne, master-mason…”
Later “The bailies declared that having upliftit from the brewers of ale within the burgh two hundred dollars, they had resolved to employ the same upon two rounds to be built upon the steeple, and had for that effect agreeit with John Mylne to give him eight hundred merks for the same, for the quhilk he was to furnish all necessaries, scaffolding, and all except iron work; and for the ground and the sole of these rounds, the said John would refer himself to the Council’s discretion.”
And John “compeired, and acknowledged the haill particulars, and acted himself for the performance of the same at the fardest before the second day of Februar, 1645″.
He also erected the small spire in such a manner as to harmonise with, and, as it were, complete, the building.
One of the family built Holyrood House. In 1763, another, William, erected the North Bridge at Edinburgh; and his brother Robert, after a distinguished career in Rome, built Blackfriar’s bridge across the Thames about the same time.
The Mylne family were still highly regarded in 1790 when one Thomas owned the quarry at Kingoodie, the principal source of much of the stone used in Dundee.
On the subject of famous masons, when St Petersburg was being built, by Peter the Great, he imported Scots Masons to build the wonderful buildings which are admired the world over.
There is another story which is not well known.
After the American War of Independence, the Americans decided to build a new Capital City. Buildings then were all wooden and quickly erected. However they decided that their President should have a house more in keeping with his status. To do this they brought in Masons from Scotland and gave them the job of erecting a stone building.
Americans being the same impatient people they are today decided that the work was not being done quickly enough.
They told the masons that they would give them a few dozen slaves to help. The slaves could be taught to do the rough work which the masons would finish off, thus speeding up the building.
The masons, of course, were all Freemasons and had taken the solemn oath that no man should be a slave of another. They would not break their oath and so went on strike.
The Americans, being reasonable people said “Ok guys. Let’s sit down and talk about this”. “Why are you on strike?”. One can just picture these five foot by five foot burly masons sitting there with their arms crossed, remembering the oath of secrecy which they had taken to their craft, saying “can’t tell you”.
However, bearing in mind that George Washington, and all but two of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons, it is certain that it would not take long for them to have worked out the reason. In any event Americans will proudly tell you that no slaves worked on the home of their President.
The story does not end there.
Later, during the almost forgotten war with America in 1812, when the US declared war on Britain. The British invaded from Canada and a British naval squadron landed 4,000 troops who captured Washington and the town was burned to the ground, including the President’s residence. Naturally, because this building was built in stone by Scottish masons, and whilst the inside was gutted the structure remained intact.
The Americans quickly refurbished the inside and the outside of it was painted white to hide the scorching. Hence the White House. The writer understands that one can still see evidence of the scorching to this day.
In many cases the trade itself has caused a great deal of confusion. On occasion they referred to the Trade or Craft as a Lodge.
They used the expressions Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft when entering what the other Trades call Journeymen, without making any reference to the difference.
Obviously they knew what they were talking about, but the mixture of Masonic and Trade terms makes understanding where and when the line was drawn between the two very obscure.
In the 18th century they entered over 40 gentlemen. The Duke of Perth, the valet de chambre of the Master of Gray and the minister of Edzell were entered along with a Mr John Paterson. The title Mr shows that he was a graduate.
They are all recorded in the Minutes and accounts, but not entered in the Lockit Book of the Trade. Here we find ‘Speculative Masons’ being mixed up with the pure trade of working or ‘Operative Masons’.
However cracks do appear to be showing in this apparent take over of the Trade because in 1734, the working Masons regained control of the Trade itself when the members enacted that “every master, before being admitted to the craft, shall perform an Essay of hewn stone to the satisfaction of the Deacon and seven masters.
However the confusion with regarding the Trade and Freemasonry continues through all the records. A Warden is mentioned as well as a Deacon, Visitor and Master.
In 1757 there is reference to a Senior Master, a Visitor, a Senior and Junior Warden, an eldest and youngest Boxmaster. No explanation is given as to the duties or order of seniority of any of the holders of these offices.
The entry in 1673 is of “George Wardroper, Prentes to Andron West, to be Entered Prentes in this lowdge”.
“1679 John Robertson, Prentes to John Young, to be Entered Prentis in this lowdg”.
However this changes in 1755
“Alexander Cheine, Robert Finlay, George Mudie, Alexander Peirie, Mariners in Dundee to be entered Free Apprentices, to be concerned in the operative part of Masonry”.
In 1694 the Trade declared that “every man when he gets (registers) his mark to pay 40/-“. By 1752 the entry money for strangers entering the Craft was raised to £100.
On 6th March 1782 the Trade agreed that in future they would charge One shilling and six pence in summer and One Shilling in winter per day for their Journeyman’s wages.
Prices of Mason Work was fixed by the Mason Trade: Like the Wrights they have a list of over 80 items for builder work.
In 1811 David Archer and Thomas Cant were ordered “to perform an Essay Piece being an Outband Rybat and that against Tomorrow at noon. John Smith’s essay was to Hew a Piece of Pavement Two feet ten Inches by Two feet. The Essay Masters Inspected the Outband Rybat and Piece of Pavement and found them ‘not altogether sufficient’.
The Trade Fined all three five shillings sterling each ‘for behoof of the Poor of the Trade. And they appoint the said David Archer, Thomas Cant and John Smith to be entered Freemasters in the Trade Locked Book’.
Every reference to the examination of the Essay of a would-be Master finds that the work was ‘not altogether sufficient’. In one entry it even comments ‘as usual’. A fine of 5/- was imposed for the poor and the person invariably admitted to the Trade.
The question arises: was this simply a way of enhancing the poor fund, and the ‘as usual’ comment a reference to some kind of in joke, or did it have Masonic overtones in that only the ‘Supreme Governor of the Universe’ could make anything that is perfect?
In 1820 the Trade was still only 28 strong. That the Trade was poor in keeping records is shown from the fact that John Smart, an accountant, had applied to become a member by right of his father. The trade asked him to justify this and his reply, by letter, included:
“That his Great Grand-father Andrew Smart, Mason & Architect in Dundee who died in 1736 was a Member of the Incorporation. That Subsequently his Grand-father Thomas Smart also Mason & Architect in Dundee who died in 1801 was a Member of the Incorporation and for some years its Chief Office Bearer –
That his Brother the late Convener David Smart, his Grand-Uncle was also a Member of the Incorporation And that latterly Thomas Smart, Writer in Dundee the Petitioner’s Father, was also a Member of the Incorporation and for near half a Century held the Situation of Clerk to the Trade”.
Books and documents regularly went missing through carelessness.
In 1840 the Deacon from 1834 told the trade that he had the Trade’s Flag and a box containing Sederunt books, cash books and documents referring to the founding of the Three Trades, along with a brass Compass and Rule. Where are they today?
Sadly, the Trade is now very small in numbers. Fewer than 20 Members have been entered since 1970. These members mainly join the Craft for sentimental and social reasons. Freemasonry, however is still strong and there are many active Lodges in Dundee.
Currently the proud members of the Three Trades are trying hard to boost their numbers so that they can keep up their activities in the City of Dundee. As you would expect from such a proud group, the Members who do remain are as staunch and true as they ever were in the past.