National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Crafts and Trades

Crafts and Trades

Craft guilds or incorporations were formed in the Middle Ages and were an important part of burgh life then and in later centuries. Each craft jealously guarded its own monopolies and standards of workmanship, acquired property to raise funds, provided for its own poor, shared the patronage of an altar to its patron saint in pre-Reformation times and a seat in the parish church after the Reformation. Where records survive they are likely to include lists of members, accounts and minutes dealing with regulations, donations to poor members, apprenticeships and elections of officeholders and actions against outsiders trying to trade in the burgh. The Scottish Association of Family History Societies has published a useful selective bibliography of 'Scottish Trades and Professions', compiled by D R Torrance (1991).

Craft and Trades Records in the National Records of Scotland

In addition to the sources identified below, when searching for individual craftsmen you should also check the National Records of Scotland (NRS) electronic catalogue and the index to pre-1925 testaments on the ScotlandsPeople website.

Trade and Craft Reords in the National Records of Scotland (NRS)
Trade or craft Place  Dates NRS reference
Baxters Haddington 1582-1684 B30/18/1
Bonnetmakers Stewarton 1673-1790 GD1/300
Carters Leith 1657-1977 GD399
Cordiners Canongate 1584-1773, 1843-52 GD1/14
Cordiners Edinburgh 1477/8 - 20th century GD348
Cordiners Haddington 1610-1882 GD302/62-6, 128-9
Cordiners Selkirk 1535-1888 GD1/13
Dyers or Litsters Aberdeen c1654-1886 E870/4
Fisherman: Society of Free Fisherman of Newhaven Newhaven 1572-1990 GD265
Fleshers Ayr c1661-1891 E870/6
Fleshers Haddington 1741-1836 B30/18/3
Gardeners: Ancient Fraternity of Free Gardeners of East Lothian East Lothian 1676-1953 GD420
Goldsmiths Edinburgh and Glasgow 1525-1964 GD1/482
Hammermen Burntisland 1648-1741 B9/13/2
Hammermen Haddington 1627-1868 GD302/29, 130-6
Hammermen Linlithgow   GD76/390
Hammermen Musselburgh 1761-1821 B52/8/4-6 and B52/14/67
Incorporations of crafts Dunfermline 1593-1656 B20/20/4
Incorporations of crafts Haddington 1758-9 GD98/15/48
Incorporations of crafts Linlithgow guildry 1652-1959 GD1/634
Incorporations of crafts Selkirk 1717-1824 B68/8/1
Maltmen Dysart 1675 GD164/75
Maltmen Dysart 1699 GD164/70
Skinners Haddington 1682-1801 GD1/39/1
Skinners Transcript of sederunt book at Haddington 1745-71 GD302/100
Tailors Edinburgh 1446-1881 GD1/12/1-68
Tailors Potterow, Edinburgh 1551-1696 GD1/399
Tailors Linlithgow 1625-1847 GD76/385-9
Tailors Dunbar 1866-7 GD302/90
Weavers Ayr c1657-1849 E870/5
Weavers Burntisland 1618-1864 B9/15
Weavers Haddington 1786-1852 B30/18/9
Wrights Culross 1815-42 GD1/977
Wrights Musselburgh 1574 - c.1883 B52/8/1-3
Wrights and Masons Haddington 1533-1915 B30/18/4-8 and B30/22
Wrights and Masons Leith 1821-35 GD1/943
Woolcombers:Woolcombers Society Minute Book   1755-9 CS96/1943

For details of records of masons and freemasons see David Stevenson, 'The First Freemasons' (1988), Appendix 2.

We also hold microfilm of the following:

  • Brechin tailors minutebook, 1660-1775 (original in Angus Archives) (NRS reference RH4/140)
  • Edinburgh Hammermen charters, 1501-1686 (original in Edinburgh City Archives) (NRS reference RH4/11)
  • Inverness Hammermen minutebook, 1690 - 1861 (original now lost) (NRS reference RH4/94).

Burgh records

The Scottish Record Society has published indexed lists of admissions of burgesses of Edinburgh, Canongate, Glasgow and Dumbarton (for details see 'Scottish Texts and Calendars' published by the Scottish History Society). For other burghs you will need to search the burgess rolls or court books of the appropriate burgh, many of which are held in local archives. Burgh court books also contain a great deal of information relating to the regulation of crafts. For further information on burgh records you should consult our publication 'Tracing Scottish Local History' (HMSO, 1994).

Apprenticeship records

Some indentures are registered in the Register of Deeds, others are scattered among collections of private papers. There is also a series of Edinburgh indentures at RH9/17/272-326 covering the period 1613-1783. Other Edinburgh apprenticeship records can be found in the papers of George Heriot's Trust, relating to the charity school set up for orphans and poor children of burgesses and freemen (NRS reference GD421/10). The Scottish Record Society has published lists of Edinburgh apprentices for the period 1583 - 1755. From 1710 stamp duty was charged on indentures. Records of Scottish apprentices survive in the Stamp Board's Apprenticeship Books, 1710-1811 kept by The National Archives (TNA) in London (TNA reference IR1).

Friendly societies and trade unions

Friendly societies were formed in the 18th and 19th centuries for the mutual benefit of the members. Rules and regulations of trade associations, friendly societies, unions, co-operative and building societies are to be found in the Friendly Society records (FS). These range from the Brotherly Society of Coopers of Leith to the Tranent Benevolent Society of Colliers, and the Inverness Cabmen's Union. A very few also give a list of members. The records are listed in Ian MacDougall's, 'A Catalogue of some Labour Records in Scotland' (Scottish Labour History Society, 1978). Friendly Society records for Free Church ministers can be found in NRS reference CH3/515-517.

Records relating to early trade union activity can be found in criminal court records - for example, JC26/ 250 relates to the trial of James Granger charged with entering into a combination to raise the wages of weavers, 1788; records seized from the Scottish Weavers Association of 1808-13 are in the papers of the Lord Advocate's Department in preparation for the trial of a number of its members in 1813 (NRS reference AD14/13/8). For more information on criminal cases, go to our guide to records of crime and criminals.

Sources held elsewhere

You should check with the National Library of Scotland, local archives, libraries and museums for their holdings of craft records. For example, the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh holds the records of the Society of Barbers from 1716. Check the surveys of the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS).