Society of Barbers

Trades of Edinburgh | Incorporation of Barbers

The barbers in Edinburgh were associated from an early date with the surgeons of the town, and the two were united in a single Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers in 1505. By 1722 these two occupations had drifted apart, the surgeons gradually going up in the world and considering themselves no longer to be a craft but a profession, while the barbers had not passed all the same examinations and did not possess as many skills and qualifications.

In 1722 the barbers were permitted by the Town Council to form a Society of their own and to elect a preses, but not to form an Incorporation nor to have their own deacon.

In addition to shaving and hair-cutting, some barbers (but not all) were also wigmakers. Some of them could dress wounds, lance boils, remove moles, warts and fistulas, bleed their customers (intentionally or otherwise), extract teeth and apply leeches. They also sold perfumes and toiletries to help make ends meet.

The coat of arms of the Society of Barbers was included by Thomas Hunter in his paper cut-out series of the Incorporations’ arms. The version depicted here, realised for the Convenery of Trades by Deirdre Nicholls in 2012, shows, on a chief azure, two opened razors proper. On the field gules is a bleeding bowl proper above a pair of wide-open scissors. The blue and white earthenware bowl is decorated with various tools of the craft.

The preses of the Society of Barbers, though not a deacon or a participant in the Convenery, became a governor of the Trades Maiden Hospital. The Society continued (at least in theory) to support two places for girls in the Hospital until about 1926, when the Society was wound up. The preses was also expected to serve on the board of governors of the poor house.


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