Trades of Edinburgh – Incorporation of Fleshers
The craft of the flesher, or butcher, is necessarily one of the oldest in the burgh but we do not know of a seal of cause until 11th April 1488 (not 1490 as stated by Colston and others). By then they already had a deacon, Richard Furde, “deykin of the fleshouris for the tyme”, from which it is clear that they had a corporate existence and had almost certainly received another seal of cause from the town council at some previous date. One clause says that the Council thinks it right that no man of the craft, either candlemaker or other in time to come, shall use the craft except for freemen’s sons that can manage slaying and jointing processes for themselves. This shows us that the candlemakers of the town were members of the Incorporation of Fleshers at that date.
The Incorporation’s coat of arms inevitably includes some of the tools and materials of the craft. The animals’ heads are sometimes depicted facing to the left (as above) and sometimes to the right. The presence of the two wheat sheaves in the chief looks anomalous at first sight, as one associates such “garbs” with the baxters rather than the Fleshers; the explanation for them is that they are a corruption of earlier arms which showed not wheat sheaves but two besoms of butchers’ broom (Ruscus aculeatus).
The Fleshers’ abattoir came to be situated next to the Nor’ Loch, not far from where the Skinners had for a long time been accustomed to washing their wool and skins. In the 1690s the Skinners complained to the Convenery of Trades that the Fleshers were polluting the loch by “rinsing their tripes” in it so that when wool was dipped in the loch it came out ten times dirtier than when it went in. The Convenery’s solution was to suggest to the Skinners that they should remove to the Water of Leith in order to obtain a ready supply of fresh running water.