Gray’s lecturers admitted as first females to join Burgess of Trades

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Image shows Elaine Gowans, Head of Fashion & Textiles at Gray's, Josie Steed, Senior lecturer from Gray's (right), Martin Wiseman, Deacon of the Aberdeen Weaver Incorporation (beard - check jacket). (left) Philip Sainsbury, Deacon of the Aberdeen Tailors Incorporation.
Two lecturers from Gray's School of Art at Robert Gordon University (RGU) have been formally admitted as Burgesses of Trade to the Seven Incorporate Trades of Aberdeen at a special ceremony held in the City Hall last week.

Head of Textiles & Fashion at Gray’s, Elaine Gowans has been admitted as a Burgess to the Weavers Incorporation and Senior Lecturer at Gray’s, Josie Steed has been admitted as a Burgess to the Tailors Incorporation.

Both women were admitted as members to their respective Weavers and Tailors Incorporation last year, breaking a 500-year barrier by becoming the first female members to join these 2 trades.

By becoming a Burgess, Josie and Elaine will now have the right to vote at the Trade meetings and a greater say in decision making of the organisation.

Gray’s senior lecturer and newly appointed Burgess of the Tailors Incorporation, Josie Steed, said “The Tailors were initially formed as a trade association to prevent women from encroaching on the tailor’s profession. Whilst this changed over time and women were allowed to make some garments for the female market, it was the only association in Scotland to reach that compromise.

"It is hugely significant that I have been elected as the Burgess of the Tailors Incorporation, and a huge honour. I’m looking forward to supporting the organisation as it evolves and to raising awareness about the trades and their importance in Aberdeen.”

Head of Textiles & Fashion at Gray’s and newly appointed Burgess to the Weavers Incorporation, Elaine Gowans, said: “The Tailors and Weavers both run an annual awards scheme with Gray’s School of Ar with Textile and Fashion students and we have a close working relationship with the Trade Incorporations.   

"In 1988, as a textiles student at Gray’s, I was awarded the Aberdeen Weaver Incorporation Career Enhancement Award which had only been established the previous year so becoming the Burgess of the Weavers, particularly their first female Burgess, is indeed meaningful for me.  I’m really excited to take on this role.”

Last year, the Aberdeen Weaver Incorporation celebrated the 800th anniversary of its formation.  Since its inception in 1587, seven of these craft groupings, Hammermen, Bakers, Wrights & Coopers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers and Fleshers, decided to work together under the leadership of a Deacon Convener so that they could speak with one clear voice to the Town Council and so ensure that the needs of craftsmen and their workers would be taken into account.

Since its founding in 1511, the Aberdeen Trade Incorporation had only admitted men as members however the organisation is evolving and is keen to grow its membership on an equity basis. There are now two female members of the Shoemakers Incorporation, one in the Tailors and one in the Weavers.

Martin Wiseman, Deacon of the Aberdeen Weavers Incorporation, said: “As the current Deacon of the Aberdeen Weavers Incorporation, I am delighted firstly that Elaine Gowans chose to join the Weavers Incorporation last year, and the final part of becoming a member of the Seven Incorporated trades has now been completed, with Elaine being sworn in as a Burgess of Trade of Aberdeen, at a full Aberdeen council meeting.”

Philip Sainsbury, Deacon of the Aberdeen Tailors Incorporation said: “We at the Aberdeen Tailors Incorporation were delighted that Josie chose to join our trade and equally delighted to see her sworn in as a Burgess of Trade continuing a long standing history since 1411”

“Being a Burgess of Trade is now more a symbolic role. In the past the Burgess of Aberdeen were called upon by the City Council, to help defend city, on the 24 July 1411, at the Battle of Harlaw, just outside Inverurie. When Donald, Lord of the Isles, along with 10000 men plan to ransack the city of Aberdeen. The battle was a bloody draw, with many thousands killed and wounded, including the death of Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen and many of the Burgesses.

"At the Weavers Incorporation, we are still very proud that some of the artefacts displayed in Trinity Hall, are the Weaver’s Banners and the Sword of Provost Davidson, used in the battle. Although such an act is very unlikely to ever to happen again, we as Burgesses still swear in our oath to defend Aberdeen.”

Image from left to right shows 

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