The Trades House of Glasgow was created in 1605 during a period of local-government reform and was designed to give leaders of the city’s craftsmen more say in Glasgow’s running. It incorporated 14 distinct trades or craft-guilds. These were: bakers; barbers; bonnet-makers and dyers; coopers; cordiners (makers of boots, shoes, jerkins and other leather goods); fleshers; gardeners; hammermen (blacksmiths, goldsmiths, armourers and other metal-workers); maltmen (brewers); masons (builders and stonemasons); skinners and glovers; tailors; weavers; and wrights (carpenters).
Today, technology, automation and mechanisation are consigning professions to the dustbin at a frightening rate. Filing clerks and telephone switchboard operators have probably already gone and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before farm-labourers, check-out cashiers and fast-food chefs go too. Thus, I find it strange and sad that if you had to pick one of the above 14 trades to recommend as a career to your children, you’d probably opt for the barbers. The last time I counted, my home-town of about 8000 people contained at least a dozen hairdresser’s or barber’s shops – so I guess that profession is safe for the foreseeable future. (Of course, being a barber a few centuries ago involved more than being able to trim someone’s hair. As the red-and-white barber’s pole reminds us, barbers then were also regarded as surgeons and as well as offering the proverbial short-back-and-sides they were available to do ‘bloodletting, cupping, tooth extractions, lancing and even amputations.’)
Anyway, the trades had already made their presence felt in Glasgow before 1605, particularly with their support for the city’s most venerable building, Glasgow Cathedral. They helped finance major extensions made to it during the 13th and 14th century. And according to the Undiscovered Scotland website, it was also the city’s tradesmen who helped to save the cathedral during the Reformation. In the 1560s they defended it against ‘reforming’ mobs who would have ransacked and wrecked it, which was the sad fate that befell most other medieval-built churches in Scotland at the time. As a result, Glasgow Cathedral was the only cathedral on the Scottish mainland to survive the Reformation intact.
Visit Glasgow Cathedral today and you’ll see how the support of the 14 trades has been rewarded. Their titles, mottos, symbols, banners and tools are commemorated in stained glass in the south wall of the choir area. Here are a few pictures I took of the glass-work whilst exploring the building a few months ago and I hope my lack of skill as a photographer doesn’t diminish its gorgeousness.