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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Culture and Leisure

Guild Culture

By Norman F Shead

Between 1516 and 1559 six of Glasgow's trades were organised into incorporations or guilds: skinners and furriers (1516), tailors (1527), wabsters or weavers (1528), hammermen (who worked with metal) (1536), masons (1515), baxters or bakers (1556) and cordiners (leather workers) (1559). These were protective organisations intended to control those who could work at a particular craft and to keep out competitors from other burghs. The incorporations laid down regulations as to how the craft should be conducted. Those who practised it, the master craftsmen, had to be freemen of the burgh or burgesses with the right to carry on a trade. Only by being a burgess or freeman was it possible to have any say in the running of the town. They could become freemen by having served apprenticeships and paid their burgess fee and been accepted into the incorporation. New people coming into the trade would have to get the approval of the Dean of Guild. Some of the incorporations laid down the length of apprenticeship which had to be served before a worker could become a journeyman and then have the prospect of eventually setting up as a master. The length of apprenticeship could vary from four to seven years.

When skills were in short supply there was a concern about apprentices being poached from other employers and generally the rules of incorporations forbade a master employing another’s apprentice. The guilds would also try to regulate the quality of work being sold and the officers of the incorporation had the right to inspect work. There was also a religious aspect and all six crafts maintained an altar with ornaments and vestments, levying money from their members and their workers. Practice in other towns suggests that on Corpus Christi day the crafts would take part in a religious procession.

Each year the members of the craft would meet and elect a deacon to act as their spokesman. There is no evidence, from before 1560, of the incorporations providing help for poor and sick members.

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