**You can now see the books for yourself! The Baxters, Fleshers and Hammermen books have been digitised and are available online through the Special Collections website**
St Andrews traditionally had seven craft guilds dating back to the earliest period of the burgh’s history. These included the baxters (bakers), fleshers (butchers), cordiners (shoemakers), hammermen (metalworkers), tailors, weavers, and wrights. Unfortunately no records survive for the tailors or weavers, but we do have books for the others, with start dates ranging between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. To these can be added the book of the Maltmen, which dates from 1762.
The guilds were political, economic and social organisations. They had their own rules for entry, and maintained the standards of their work through a system of masters and apprentices. Apprentices were admitted once a year at Michaelmas – 29 September – and an apprenticeship usually lasted for six years, with a seventh year added on for ‘meat and fee’, or to cover the board and costs for the apprentice.
Once a man had finished his apprenticeship, and spent years perfecting his craft, he could be given the title of Master. In order to obtain this, he had to formally demonstrate his skills in front of the deacon. This could take the form of a ‘masterpiece’ – an object made especially for this test – which the deacon assessed for its quality. Only once he became a master was a craftsmen allowed to take apprentices of his own.
Every year each guild elected a deacon, who led the craftsmen and inspected their work, and a positor, who was in charge of the guild’s accounts. The positor was later known as the boxmaster, and we hold boxmaster’s books for the wrights craft dating from the eighteenth century. The deacon and positor were prominent men within the town, and would have held a place on the burgh council. Meetings of the crafts were held on ‘gallow hill’, believed to have been the area at the north end of the Scores.
In addition, the seven crafts came together in a convocation, for which there was a separate book (from 1594). The deacons of each craft would convene under the leadership of the Deacon Warner, later known as the Deacon Convener, in order to discuss important matters which affected them all.
The crafts were brotherhoods, and looked after the welfare of the brethren and their families. Financial assistance was available to widows and orphans, as well as to those brothers who were unable to work through injury or illness. The state did not offer any social security in this period, so these benefits were very important. The guilds also offered prayers for the souls of brothers who had died, giving them an important religious function, in addition to their social and economic activities.
The St Andrews craft books record the rules of the guilds, the minutes of meetings, the admission of masters and apprentices and the settlement of disputes. The books are a very rich source for the history of St Andrews, and an important collection for the history of Scotland.