The Deacon-Convener of the Trades of Edinburgh is the third Citizen of the burgh, after the Lord Provost and the Lord Dean of Guild. These three have the right to wear scarlet gowns trimmed and faced with ermine on special civic occasions, such as Kirking the Deacons and Riding the Marches. The Deacon-Convener is elected to that office by his fellow deacons of all the Incorporated Trades of the city, usually for a term of three years. To qualify he must hold, or have previously held, the office of deacon of an incorporation. His personal banner is the Blue Blanket, which is carried before him by the Convenery’s Officer on public occasions.
The principal function of the Deacon-Convener is to be preces or chairman of the Convenery of Trades and to co-ordinate all its activities. He is also the public face of the Trades of the city and represents them at functions and on public occasions.
The office of Deacon-Convener came into being in about 1562, at the time the Convenery was formed, and the names of all the holders are known since about 1575. Famous holders of the office include:
George Heriot, goldsmith, founder of George Heriot’s School;
James Ker, goldsmith, who became the first craftsman to be a Member of Parliament for Edinburgh at Westminster after the union;
William Dick, hammerman and vet, founder of the Dick Veterinary Institute, which is now part of the University of Edinburgh.
DEACONS AND THEIR DUTIES
The office of trade Deacon dates back to an Act of Parliament in 1424, before there were any organised trade bodies in the burgh. Originally the deacon’s only task was to exercise quality control by examining the workmanship and materials of his fellow craftsmen. Once the incorporated trades came into existence, the Deacon became the chairman and chief office-bearer, combining his duties with that of “Kirkmaster” (treasurer) of his incorporation.
By 1492 (and apparently earlier) the Deacons of those Incorporations which had received a Seal of Cause from the Town Council were eligible to sit as part of the Council, and this came to be an important part of their duties. It gave the craftsmen a voice in the administration of the burgh, before which everything had been run by the merchant class.
By about 1562 the Deacons of the principal crafts in the burgh convened together regularly for their mutual support and to promote the interests of their various Incorporations. The Deacon-Convener of Trades held a high position in the Town Council and he chaired the Convenery of Trades, being sometimes referred to as the “Deacon of Deacons”.
By the Act of Sett, or constitution of the burgh, in 1583, six Deacons were constituted as Council or Ordinary Deacons, while the remaining eight were called Extraordinary Deacons. The latter only sat and voted with the Council when certain specified matters were being discussed.
As time went by, more duties came to be performed by the various Deacons, such as being governors of George Heriots Hospital, the Trades Maiden Hospital, the Poorhouse and other private and public institutions. Once the Trades Maiden Hospital was founded in 1704 each Deacon became a governor ex officio. The Deacon of the Goldsmiths was also the Assay-Master in Edinburgh until 1681.
RECENT DEACON CONVENERS
Left to Right: The Lord Dean of Guild, Pat Denzler, The Right Honourable Lord Provost, Frank Ross and Deacon Convener, Ian Robertson pictured at the 2018 Kirking of the Deacons at Greyfriars Kirk.
2018 – Present Ian Robertson (Deacon of Candlemakers)
2015 – 2017 David Le Sueur (Deacon of Skinners)
2012 – 2014 Michael How (Deacon of Tailors)
2009 – 2011 Gordon M McAndrew (Deacon of Hammermen)
2006 – 2008 Lachlan S Mackintosh (Deacon of Hammermen)
2003 – 2005 Gordon M Wyllie (Deacon of Hammermen)
2001 – 2002 Derek Ferguson (Deacon of Tailors)