Powerful deacons made secret deals to control town council

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The Convenery of the Trades of Edinburgh was established 450 years ago and comprised the 14 deacons at the helm of the city’s trades incorporations.

They included: goldsmiths, surgeons, skinners, furriers, hammermen, wrights and masons, tailors, baxters, fleshers, cordiners, websters, waulkers, bonnetmakers and dyers. The Incorporation of Candlemakers was included later.

Hugely powerful at the time, the Convenery of Deacons sat on the town council, making up half of the members. They often forged secret deals before meetings to ensure that all members voted together, helping sway vital decisions their way.

Among the most infamous of deacons was cabinet maker William Brodie. He was Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons by day and burglar and thief by night.

To mark the organisation’s anniversary, the Convenery is staging a month-long exhibition at its base, Ashfield, 61 Melville Street, where artefacts not normally seen by the public are on show.

They include the Blue Blanket, originally presented to the Tradesmen of Edinburgh by James III and his queen, Margaret of Denmark, in around 1482. It is also claimed it was carried at the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513. Like regimental colours, the Blue Blanket was replaced – the one on show is believed to date from the third quarter of the 17th century.

The exhibition also includes a striking painting of Wrights and Masons building the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 
and another of the Trades Maiden Hospital on the site of what would become the Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, which captures a unique angle of Edinburgh Castle flying the royal standard to mark Queen Victoria’s visit.