Minute book of the cordiner craft, St Andrews, 1570-1796

Scope and Content

Guild Book of the Cordiner [Cordwainer] Craft of St Andrews, from 1570 to 1796.Includes list of statutes and ordinances, list of names of ancient deacons, freemen and apprentices from 1525 to 1691, minutes of meetings from 1604 to 1796, dealing with election of officers each year, admission of freemen and apprentices, discipline of members, tacks for land held, debts contracted, finances. They later became known as the Shoemakers Guild.

Administrative / Biographical History

The word cordiner is derived from the French word cordonnier meaning shoemaker. In the 15th century James I introduced French and Flemish leather craftsmen into Scotland, and soon shoemakers were known not only by the Scots term suters but also cordiners and cordwainers. They would make all kinds of leather goods, not just shoes, although they later became known as the Shoemakers Guild.

St Andrews was an episcopal burgh, under the lordship of the archbishop, which gave its inhabitants, the burgesses, similar privileges to a royal burgh. Merchants had the right to trade freely through the harbour, while artisans were only allowed to trade within the burgh, and only in certain goods. Merchants kept a monopoly on the most lucrative trade in fish, wool and hides, and grew very wealthy, keeping their wealth intact by frequent intermarriages. They formed a protective institution, the Guildry, founded upon commitment to the parish church, control of civic affairs, commercial interests and fraternity. Guild members came to dominate the town council with a small number of powerful families monopolising the posts of provost, always the head of the Guild, and bailies. The latter held many responsibilities including acting as judges at the regular burgh courts. Here they administered the burgh laws, ruling on petty crimes, infringements of local trading regulations and collection of rents and feu duty. The town council in the 18th century took over the regulation and control of standards for goods, holding an annual bread assize to decide weight of a pennyloaf of bread, depending on the price of the previous year’s grain.

The craftsmen also formed mutual self-interest groups, known as craft organisations. Seven such organisations were established in pre-reformation St Andrews: the hammermen, wrights, baxters, tailors, cordiners, weavers and fleshers, in that order of precedence. They combined into the Seven Trades with a court of 42 members, made up of the deacon, boxmaster and 4 council members from each trade. The Convener of the Seven Trades had a seat on the town council. Anyone working in a burgh had to be a member of the local craft, which controlled admission to the craft, set standards of workmanship, approved apprentices, dictated prices, and regulated their trade. Apprentices were admitted to serve 7 year apprenticeships, after which their work would be judged, and upon payment of a fee they became journeymen, and could rise to master or freeman. Men could be elected freeman as eldest son of a freeman, by marrying the daughter of a freeman or by service. A master or deacon was chosen to lead the incorporation. The craft also operated as a welfare organisation, helping widows and orphans of members. Attendance at the funeral of a brother was obligatory and each craft had a mortcloth for loan. The religious aspect of the organisations was also very important. Each craft endowed an altar in the town church of Holy Trinity for its own patron saint; St Eloy, who had been a goldsmith in Limoges, France, was the patron of the Hammermen. It was a matter of civic pride to maintain the town church and both Guild and crafts contributed towards its upkeep. Both classes of burgess participated in the annual religious processions such as Corpus Christi, with banners of their insignia and in strict order of status, and might put on mystery plays illustrating stories from the Bible.

After the Reform Bill of 1832 and then the Scottish Burgh Reform Bill of 1833, many of the functions of the Seven Trades were transferred to the municipality. Membership continued to decline through the 19th century and the decision was taken in 1836 to sell the lands owned by the trades and divide the money between the members. The end to exclusive trading privileges for guild and craft members was brought about by the Burgh Trading Act of 1846, which allowed anyone to buy and seel within the burgh without being a member of any trade organisation. By 1847 all the property of the Seven Trades had been sold; the Convener remained but no more business was transacted.


Single item

Access Information

By appointment with the Keeper of Manuscripts. Access to records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Presented to the Library by D C Smith, watchmaker, 'for preservation and reference', 11 May 1890

Other Finding Aids

Individual Manuscripts and Small Collections database available as part of Manuscripts Database.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding: quarter morocco with cloth boards. Rebound by Cockerell in July 1953 with binder's note inside back cover.Paper: 19x25.6cm

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Maia Sheridan, Archives Hub project archivist, based on material from the Manuscripts Database

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Manuscripts. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.




A brief descriptive article by D Hay Fleming in St Andrews Citizen, 5 April 1879, p.6.