Incorporations of Perth

As early as the Norman conquests of the eleventh century artisans, craft workers, and merchants began to set up organizations (craft and merchant guilds) to control and regulate their commercial activity. It was these guilds that saw to the running of markets and fairs, and ensured the monarch received his or her due in taxes in line with the charters granted to them. For Perth, the most famous such charter is that of William the Lion of Scotland granted in 1210. Under this royal charter, the Burgh of Perth received authority to control trade within the town. Magistrates within royal burghs had the power to grant incorporation status to the guilds effectively providing them with a monopoly and protection from enterprises outwith the burgh. The incorporations imposed rules and regulations controlling the quality of craftsmanship and entry to the profession. Each incorporation maintained a governing body comprising a deacon (master), boxmaster (treasurer) and a council of craftworkers. A court was held to uphold the incorporation’s rules and for exercising discipline over their contravention. The incorporations worked collectively and held the right to representation in the running of the burgh; a right maintained until its abolition by the Royal Burghs (Scotland) Act 1833 under which the town council became an electable body. The loss of their monopoly status in 1846 resulted in the incorporations being reduced to charitable bodies.

The eight incorporations of Perth were the bakers, fleshers, glovers, hammermen, shoemakers, tailors, weavers, and wrights.

Near Perth Theatre, a stainless steel plaque (erected in 2008) marks the spot where the hall of The Hammermen Incorporation of Perth once stood. Incorporated in 1518, the Hammermen, whose motto was ‘By Hammer and Hand do all Arts Stand’, included metalworkers (armourers, blacksmiths, brass and iron founders, cutters, goldsmiths, gunsmiths, jewellers, plumbers, silversmiths, tinsmiths, and weapon makers) as well as coach builders, furriers, harness and saddle makers. The Tailor Incorporation of Perth, which existed from as early as 1525, maintained their hall where Number 227 High Street exists today. Comprising two sciences, the tailors and staymakers, the incorporation was financially ruined in the early part of the nineteenth century as a result of the corruption of two boxmasters, which made necessary the sale of the incorporation’s property. Despite this setback, The Tailor Incorporation of Perth survived as an organisation until the start of the current century. The Shoemaker Incorporation of Perth, which existed from at least 1545, maintained their hall where Number 97 South Street exists today. The incorporation was wound up in 2000. The Flesher Incorporation of Perth, for which records exist from c. 1598, maintained their hall in South Street until the 1920s. A carved relief of the guild’s symbol on the late nineteenth century red sandstone building that is Number 46-50 South Street memorialises the hall. Number 103 South Street is traditionally deemed Weaverland Close after the now demolished hall of The Weaver Incorporation of Perth that stood nearby. Records of the incorporation exist from 1671 though the incorporation was active earlier. The incorporation no longer exists. For more than two centuries The Wright Incorporation of Perth maintained their hall in Watergate. The trades within the Wright Incorporation included barbers, bookbinders, carpenters, glaziers, masons, and weavers. A wallmounted plaque provides information as to the history of the Incorporation. ‘Within these premises, 21-29 Watergate, the meetings of The Wright Incorporation of Perth were held from 1725 until 1968, when the building was sold and further developed into flats; it was constructed in 1725 by The Wright Incorporation with a hall and six flats’. During the renovations, the interior of the building was completely changed and the spiral staircase that led up to the incorporation’s Deacon Court removed. The Glover Incorporation of Perth is known to have existed from at least the twelfth century. In 1485 the town council formally ratified the customs of that craft. Glove making in Perth thrived until the late eighteenth century and brought great wealth to the Incorporation, which invested its funds in property in and around Perth: Pomarium, St Leonard’s, Curfew Row, Soutarhouses, and Tullylumb included. Today, The Glover Incorporation of Perth still exists as an organisation (charitable) though its role in glove making has long past.

Learn more about Walter Scott’s Fair City: