Craftsmen Past and Present in the Town Hall!

Last Saturday saw the culmination of our project, as The Craftsmen of St Andrews Past and Present gathered in St Andrews Town Hall.

The Baxters, Fleshers and Hammermen books on display.

The Baxters, Fleshers and Hammermen books on display.

Trying your hand at calligraphy.

Trying your hand at calligraphy.

Our staff from Special Collections were there, with the Baxters’, Fleshers’ and Hammermen’s books and a fantastic variety of palaeography (old handwriting) and calligraphy tasks for people to try out.

MakLab were also on site, to showcase the crafts of the future. They brought a 3D printer, laser cutter, a vinyl cutter and a heat press, so that our visitors could see this exciting equipment close up, and try it out for themselves.

Learning about the laser cutter.

Learning about the laser cutter.

The 3D printer in action, making a vase.

The 3D printer in action, making a vase.







The first demo of the day was by Stuart Minick, of Minick’s Artisan Butchers, and his colleague James Lothian. This was a fascinating insight into the skills required to ‘bust down a lamb’, with Stuart talking us through his work, from sourcing meat to producing haggis.

James Lothian, of Minick's Artisan Butchers, demonstrates his craft.

James Lothian, of Minick’s Artisan Butchers, demonstrates his craft.

He underlined how important it is to buy local produce, and talked about the years of training needed to become a flesher, while James prepared half a lamb according to traditional methods, and the other half using modern techniques.

The old and new butchery techniques shown side-by-side.

The old and new butchery techniques shown side-by-side.









In the afternoon blacksmith Mihai Cocris talked us through the properties of various metals, letting us see, and hear, the differences between them. He showed us the ways that metal could be joined, and talked about how the techniques had changed over the years, demonstrating different tools along the way.

Blacksmith Mihai Cocris demonstrating the craft of the Hammerman.

Blacksmith Mihai Cocris demonstrating the craft of the Hammerman.









At two o’clock, Graeme Nicol awarded the prizes for our photography competition. Graeme is a former Deacon Convener of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen, and was kind enough to say a few words about his organisation before he awarded the prizes.

Graeme Nicol (centre) with competition winners Frank Riddell and Emily Noakes.

Graeme Nicol (centre) with competition winners Frank Riddell and Emily Noakes.

The photographs were the result of a challenge set to St Andrews Photographic Society, to capture the craftspeople of North East Fife in action. Congratulations to Frank Riddell, Emily Noakes and Chris Reekie who all won prizes.

MakLab's Delphine Dallison explains how to use the printing blocks.

MakLab’s Delphine Dallison explains how to use the printing blocks.

After this, MakLab ran a workshop where participants could print their own design onto a tote bag. First they had to cut out their printing blocks on the laser-cutter, before using the ink to create their finished product. Messy but fun!

Some of the trades-based designs from the workshop participants.

Some of the trades-based designs from the workshop participants.

The last demo of the day came from Murray Barnett, of G H Barnett & Son bakery. Murray talked us through the process of making bannocks, as well as the different techniques and skills that bakers have to learn.

Murray Barnett showing how to make the perfect bannock.

Murray Barnett showing how to make the perfect bannock.

The bannocks in the pan. Delicious!

The bannocks in the pan. Delicious!

He told us a bit about the history of his company, how long it takes to train as a baker and how science and art combine in the baker’s craft.





Here are some of the comments that our visitors left about the day:


rsz_beautiful_bannocks rsz_liked_the_blacksmith rsz_only_buying_haggis_from_minick_now

rsz_ancient_and_modern_combo_was_fascinating rsz_old_books_the_best


Thank you to all the project partners, volunteers and visitors who made our event so enjoyable!

See the craft books for yourself!

Mat image

Special Collections has now made the digitised versions of the books available online. You can see them here.

The originals will be on display at our event this Saturday, 7 May, in St Andrews Town Hall. They will be accompanied by our experts from Special Collections, who will be able to answer any questions you might have.


This is a rare opportunity to see these books up close, so don’t miss it!

With thanks to Mathew Schwartz for the beautiful images.



The Archbishop’s Builders: Lost Letters from the Mary’s Chapel Project

Dr Aaron Allen (University of Edinburgh) is one of the leading experts on the history of the crafts in Scotland. He has been researching the Incorporation of Mary’s Chapel – the builders craft in Edinburgh – and has recently made a very exciting discovery in the archives. In this guest blog, he discusses an important link to St Andrews.

In amongst the recently-rediscovered ‘lost’ records of the Incorporation of Mary’s Chapel were three fascinating documents from Andrew Forman, Archbishop of St Andrews (1514-1521). Two of these are letters, which is remarkable enough – it was very rare for mere craftsmen to receive correspondence from so prominent an Archbishop. The third document is even more significant, however. It is a confirmation of the crafts’ 1475 foundation document, known as a seal of cause.[1] Seals of cause were charters, granted by the burgh council, and they enshrined the rights of the crafts in law. The Archbishop of St Andrews was using his authority over the collegiate kirk in Edinburgh to support the exclusive privileges of the capital’s building trades. But why?

1517 Letter Archbishop St Andrews

Letter from Andrew Forman, Archbishop of St Andrews to the Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh: Edinburgh City Archives, Mill Records, A6.

The fact that these documents connect the ecclesiastical burgh of St Andrews and royal burgh of Edinburgh might seem confusing at first. The building trades in Edinburgh held exclusive privileges from their seal of cause, but these privileges theoretically only covered the capital itself. So why the Archbishop of St Andrews?

The right to work in the town was really an issue of jurisdiction. The Incorporation was supposed to have control over who worked in the building trades, and they did this by by testing the ‘sufficiency’ of the work, and making those who passed the test freemen. To be a freeman meant that one’s work was of a high standard – unfreemen were considered to be less qualified – and this gave access to the privileges of the craft. This ties in with the wider framework of burgh privileges, which were supposedly restricted to those living within the town walls. This is well illustrated by the eighteenth-century place name of ‘World’s End Close’, the last close within Edinburgh’s town walls. Those who lived inside the walls were within the privileged jurisdiction of the capital where the markets were. If the economic privileges ended at the burgh boundaries, then living outside the wall was like being beyond the world’s end.

In reality the rules were far more complex, and often simply ignored. The unfreemen, ‘strangers’ and ‘outland burgesses’ caused constant problems for the burgh establishment, whether they aided the overall economy or not. Burgh jurisdictions were more flexible in practice than municipal regulation would suggest, and as the population of Edinburgh tripled between 1540 and 1640, it became much more difficult to keep track of who had access to the privileges of incorporated craftwork.

This was hardly a new problem, as demonstrated by the recently re-discovered group of papers relating to the Incorporation of Mary’s Chapel in the Edinburgh City Archives. The masons and wrights of Mary’s Chapel had first been granted a seal of cause and an altar in 1475, though other wood- and stone-working crafts soon joined them. Most of these tended to be trades which worked with the masons and wrights on building sites, highlighting the shared occupational factors which helped to unify the diverse, but privileged, freemen. But not all craftsmen or women who worked on the capital’s building sites were necessarily freemen. The same town council which had granted the seal of cause often employed unfreemen for its own building works, as did the kirk, the crown and the nobility. This left the Incorporation with a problem. How could they enforce the council’s seal of cause? How could they exclude – or at least control – the unfree labour which continuously usurped their privileges of work within the town?

One way was by appealing to their patrons, and the lucrative ‘kirk warks’ is an excellent example. Edinburgh’s collegiate church, St Giles, needed regular work done to maintain the aging fabric. As St Giles was under the diocese of St Andrews, the Archbishop technically had oversight of God’s house in the capital. So the Incorporation asked the Archbishop of St Andrews to ratify their seal of cause, to ensure that only freemen would work on Edinburgh’s kirks. The Archbishop agreed. Perhaps there was an element of politics involved, as the provostship of St Giles had been held by Forman’s political enemy, Gavin Douglas, who had unsuccessfully attempted to secure the Archbishopric of St Andrews for himself. Could this have been the reason that Forman agreed to the Incorporation’s request?

1517 Wax Seal Archbishop St Andrews

Detail of wax seal of James Forman, Archbishop of St Andrews: Edinburgh City Archives, Mill Records, A6.

The Archbishop’s letter commands the curates to warn all the masons, carpenters, coopers, glassinwrights, bowers, slaters and dykers to obey the craft’s statutes under pain of ‘excommunicatioune, aggravatioune and reaggravatioune’. As the kirk was a major employer of the building trades, they were in a position to decide whether or not to hire unfreemen. As a senior churchman, and therefore over the ‘curatis of the colegiat kirk’ of Saint Giles, who better to appeal to for recognition of privileges over building within the Scottish capital?

Edinburgh, as a royal burgh, was supposedly beholden to none but their feudal superior, the king. Ironically, in order for the Incorporation to secure its privileges granted by the burgh council, it needed to go beyond the all-important burgh boundaries, appealing to a higher power resident in the burgh of St Andrews. Clearly jurisdiction over craft privileges was a complicated business.


[1] Edinburgh City Archives, Mill Records, A6, A7 and A8, and SL12/236, A. J. Mill, ‘Rough Inventory of Records Belonging to the Wrights and Masons of Edinburgh’ (Unpublished Typescript, 1923).

The breaking of the Hammermen’s buist


In 1575 a dispute erupted within the Hammermen craft after someone broke the buist, or strongbox, and removed the money contained within it. A group of craftsmen (below) were chosen as arbiters by the others to decide what ought to be done, and ‘with one voice’ they stated that the box should be mended and the money returned to it. The buist would then be given to the deacon for safekeeping, and the keys given to the most honest men of the craft. If it so happened that any craftsman broke the buist in the future, he would be deprived of his office, and forbidden from holding any office again.The outcome was also copied into the book of Master John Bonkle, Steward of the regality of St Andrews and clerk of the city, and witnessed by members of the craft.

This kind of decision-making process was very common in the crafts. They chose respected men of good judgement to speak on behalf of the others, and settled disputes and arguments amongst themselves. This was part of the freedom which burgesses and guild members enjoyed from other jurisdictions – for example that of the regality – and was a privilege of craft membership. It meant that a burgess who committed a crime had the right to be tried in the burgh court, by his peers, instead of the sheriff court, where he might receive less favourable treatment.


At santandrois the last day off Aprile the yeir off God 1575 yeiris the quhilk day anent the variance betwix the hammer men off the cite of santandrois anent the complent gevin in for brekking up of thir commoun buist and taking out oft certaine money out of the sam The decisioun off the said mater and taking away and doun-putting of the variance forsaid with the heall consentis professit the heall mater to James Sowrdye, Alexander Millar, Andro Craffaris, Andro Muffat, James Broun in Ergaill, Johne Buge and William Giffard all in ane voic findis ordanis and decernis the buist to be mendit againe and the money takin furth thairof to be ressavit and put thairin againe and the buist to be usit with the auld kayis thairoff and failyeing thairoff to be usit with new kayis to be maid thairto.

Did you know…

That in the early modern period the Hammermen were the largest and most prestigious craft in St Andrews? Hammermen were metalworkers, and in St Andrews the craft included silversmiths, goldsmiths, armourers, blacksmiths, wheel-wrights, cutlers and pewterers, saddlers and lorimers (who made metal horse-trappings). Much of their business came from the many religious institutions in St Andrews.

The composition of the Hammermen craft varied between towns. In Edinburgh the craft included locksmiths, while in Aberdeen it even included skinners and glovers, presumably because they were too few to warrant a craft of their own.