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Incorporation of Crafts


15th century craftsmen had serious grievances with merchants and town councils, and in 1475 the Masons of Edinburgh secured a Charter from the local authorities.  This created an Incorporation (similar to an English Trade Guild) and ‘luge’ which laid down governance for the Craft - framed rules, ensured quality of work, resolved trade differences, dispensed charity, and controlled entry to the trade.  From the medieval period to the early Nineteenth century, it became common for like craftsmen in Scottish towns to formally unite in incorporations and fraternities for their mutual support and to protect their trade.


Incorporations were licensed by royal burghs and could insist on exclusive rights to their trade by taxing interlopers, assaying goods, and controlling new admissions.  Although they could not insist that every appropriate tradesman joined, the benefits were sufficiently attractive that most did.  Such incorporations (and their restrictive practices) included Wobsters (weavers), Cordiners (shoemakers), Baxters (bakers), and Hammermen (metal workers).   Many other Scottish Burghs (like Forfar) followed in setting up these Trade Incorporations over the next 100 years.  But by the early Nineteenth century, the trade rights of incorporations were seen as restrictive and the benefits they provided were under challenge.  The Reform Act of 1846 finally removed their exclusivity and opened the related trades and business.


Leather workers

The Edinburgh Cordiners were formed in 1449 and Skinners (leather makers) in 1586.  Before this time boots, jerkins and other leather goods were provided by tanners, curriers, barkers and souters.  They adopted the single title of ‘cordiner’, which is derived from the old French ‘cordouanier’ meaning "of Cordova", then the source of the best leather.  In the 15th century James I introduced French and Flemish leather craftsmen into Scotland and the word cordiner or cordwainer took its place beside the Scots ‘suter’ for shoemaker. Other leatherworkers active in medieval Scotland included beltmakers, saddlers and glovers.

Leather craftsmen over the ages produced in addition to the military: horse saddlery & harness; knife sheaths, boots, shoes & brogues, parchment, books, boxes, coats, pants, dresses, hangars, frogs, pouches, gloves, satchels, quivers, hats, gloves, shields, all sorts of bodily protection, as well as some artistic use.


The Industrial Revolution (1800’s onwards) brought huge changes particularly in factory centralization in the big cities and heralded an end to these local crafts.  Leather production hit its peak during this time with faster production, faster tanning processes and higher-quality (thinner, softer) finished leathers.

Tanning (leather manufacture)

This was always associated with stink and industrial pollution and so, in medieval times, usually took place on the edges of burghs.There were large pits used for soaking hides in urine and dung. Washing these hides polluted the lochs and the common rivulets of a burgh, which Town Councils sought to restrict. There was also a lot of smell and general detritus.

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