The Incorporation of Hammermen appears to have been regularly formed in or before 1477, in which year one of its freemen masters, John Dalrymple, endowed its altar of St. Eloi in St. Giles’ Church, placing it on the north side of the north-west pillar of the Crossing.
So far as we can now tell, the Hammermen did not receive a seal of cause until 2nd May (Beltane) 1483 but meantime we know the name of one of its Deacons: Robert Galbraith, deacon of Hammermen, is mentioned in a writ dated 14th February 1480/1. He was therefore probably elected at Beltane 1480, exactly three years before the earliest known seal of cause.
The earliest manuscript volume possessed by the Hammermen is a tome containing the Kirkmaster’s Accounts covering the years 1494 to 1585. It is the oldest such volume of any incorporated trade in Scotland, as far as the Convenery is aware and is of the first importance for the study of pre-Reformation Edinburgh.
The Incorporation embraced all those who worked on metal with a hammer. They included blacksmiths, farriers, saddlers, lorimers, armourers, cutlers, sword-slippers, girdle-makers, locksmiths, tinsmiths, whiteiron-men, brass-founders, coppersmiths and pewterers. Altogether there were about 20 different disciplines. Later on, clock and watchmakers were added to the mix. The goldsmiths and silversmiths were originally numbered among them until about 1490-92, at which time they formed their own separate incorporation.
Until 1858 the Hammermen owned the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate, which was also their Convening Hall. By their agreement the Convenery of Trades also met in the Magdalen Chapel from 1596 until 1858. The sumptuously restored Deacon’s Chair (1708), which is still in the Magdalen Chapel to this day, bears witness to the Incorporation’s importance and standing in the burgh in the early 18th century.
At the present day the Incorporation of Hammermen is one of the largest and most thriving and active incorporations in Edinburgh. It awards an annual prize for engineering and is also active in the support of the young and in other charitable works.