Occasionally squabbles broke out between the different trades; these usually arose because of a demarcation dispute in which one craft was accused of attempting to encroach upon the privileges of another. In the case of the Skinners versus the Fleshers in 1684, however, the complaints were of a different nature.
The Fleshers’ abattoir came to be situated on the shore of the Nor’ Loch, immediately next door to where the Skinners had for a long time been accustomed to washing their wool and skins in the loch. The skinners’ main complaint was that the Fleshers were polluting the loch, just where the wool and skins were wont to be washed:
“by the running in of the blood and excrements and washing of the trypes, hes so abused the water, that all along the syde therof with the heat of the sun, it will be ane elne deep of small vermine, so that by dipping a skin ther, it brings out ten tymes more filth then is putt in with it.” [Act Book of the Convenery, 20th August 1684]
The Convenery’s solution was to suggest to the Skinners that they should remove themselves to the Water of Leith in order to obtain a ready supply of fresh running water. This course was adopted and the Skinners thrived in their new clean surroundings.
Meanwhile the Fleshers continued to use the Nor’ Loch as a dumping ground for their offal, blood and entrails. Consequently, the eels in the loch proliferated and grew to a prodigious size. Eel traps were set, providing a welcome supplement to the diet of the poorer inhabitants of the town.