The History of the Hammermen
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.
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