The history of the Incorporation of Hammermen is difficult to
determine accurately. The Incorporation appears to have been
regularly meeting on or before 1477, the year in which one of its
freemen masters, John Dalrymple, endowed its altar of St. Eloi in
St. Giles’ Church, placing it on the north side of the north-west
pillar of the Crossing.
As far as we can now tell, the Hammermen did not receive a seal of cause until 2nd May 1483 (Beltane) but meantime we know the name of one of its Deacons, Robert Galbraith, deacon of Hammermen, is mentioned in a writ dated 14th February 1480/1. He was probably elected at Beltane 1480, exactly three years before the earliest known seal of cause.
The earliest manuscript volume possessed by the Hammermen is a book containing the Kirkmaster’s Accounts covering the years 1494 to 1585. It is the oldest volume of any incorporated trade in Scotland, as far as the Convenery of Trades is aware. It is of the first importance for the study of pre-Reformation Edinburgh.
The Incorporation embraced all those who worked on metal with a hammer. They included blacksmiths, farriers, saddlers, lorimers, armourers, cutlers, sword-slippers, girdle-makers, locksmiths, tinsmiths, whiteiron-men, brass-founders, coppersmiths and pewterers. Altogether there were about 20 different disciplines. Later, clock and watchmakers were added to the Incorporation. The goldsmiths and silversmiths were originally members until about 1490-92, when they formed their own separate incorporation.
Until 1858 the Hammermen owned the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate, which was also their Convening Hall. By their agreement, the Convenery of Trades also met in the Magdalen Chapel from 1596 until 1858. The sumptuously restored Deacon’s Chair (1708), which is still in the Magdalen Chapel to this day, bears witness to the Incorporation’s importance and standing in the burgh in the early 18th century.
At the present day the Incorporation of Hammermen is one of the largest and most thriving and active incorporations in Edinburgh. It awards an annual prize for engineering and is also active in the support of the young and in other charitable works.
Text from the Incorporated Trades website (June 2015) - Link here
The Hammermen are fortunate to have minutes from meetings of the trade going back to 1494. These minutes have been painstakingly transcribed by volunteers into digital form, but still in the dialect and language of the day. These minutes are available to view on our website, and the original documents can be viewed at the Edinburgh City Archive. The link to our digital copies is here.
Today the role of the Hammermen is totally different from that of the members of five hundred years ago. The desire to promote craft skills is of paramount concern and contacts with Heriot Watt University Faculty of Engineering and The Telford College, both in Edinburgh are maintained.
A charity fund, to which members contribute through their annual subscription enable us to fund an annual award to the best student in the Faculty of Engineering – at Heriot Watt University. The recipients, who present a brief report on their work at the Annual Dinner – tend to have undertaken very worthy projects, and this has often been very valuable in terms of future career prospects. As a result of the charitable fund, the Incorporation has also been able to provide donations towards other worthy causes.
Two recent examples are the restoration of the Phoebe Traquair railings to a property in Colinton, at the End of Bridge Road. Another recent initiative was a donation towards a scholarly work by Dr A M Allan on, “The Locksmith Craft in Early Modern Edinburgh”, published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Copies are in the museum in Ashfield. In his book Dr Allan refers to the very comprehensive archives of the Hammermen, held in the city archives – virtually, a continuous record since the Incorporation’s inception. (The Incorporation also (hopefully) assists the Convenery of Trades of Edinburgh, in the running of The Trades Maiden Hospital here at 61 Melville Street, Edinburgh.)
Activities – our annual dinner is held on the Monday nearest 2nd May (anniversary date), very often in the New Club on Princes Street. In the past the craft have been very fortunate to have a series of first class guest speakers. In 2007, the presentation was Professor David Purdie, In 2008, on 28th April, the Guest Speaker will be the Reverend Professor George Newlands, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow.
We also have two meetings, usually in September and February – business meetings, often followed by a guest speaker – recently Professor Bob Reuben from Heriot Watt University gave an excellent presentation, “From Achilles to the iPod – Tin and its alloys through the ages”. We have two other social meetings, in winter and summer, with visits to a variety of places. Our last summer visit was to the Robert Smailes printing works in Innerleithen, and at the beginning of February we had a visit to the School of Physics at Edinburgh University where we were able to learn about some of the cutting edge developments in physics and materials sciences on our doorstep within the City. On 18th June, for our summer meeting we will meet at the Queensferry Hotel in North Queensferry when Dr Miles Oglethorpe, Head of Policy Liaison & Modernisation, Historic Scotland will speak on the Forth Crossing at Queensferry, with reference to the present rail and road bridges and the proposed new road bridge. All such summer and winter visits are followed by dinner and wives and guest are also very welcome to attend.
Past Deacon Peter Jones