The Three United Trades

The Three United Trades of Dundee consists of a collective group bringing together the three construction related Trades - the Masons, the Wrights and the Slaters.

Wright Trade

Wright Trade

The Wright Trade

The formal date of incorporation of the Wright trade, (or joiners) is not clear from surviving records. Like the Masons the earlier references to appointing Deacons and forming an association with James VI’s permission in 1592 appears to have lacked the formal recognition of the Town Council.

Although Wright documents appear to suggest that some form of association appears to have been in existence from around 1626-8.

The Wright Trade has always been the largest of the Three United Trade organisations, and by a process of logic, the wealthiest too.

In its history, the Wright Trade of Dundee included trades outwith joinery or carpentry including painters, glaziers, squarewrights and even reedmakers and shipbuilders. But by the nineteenth century this range of trades had reduced to only woodworkers and glaziers. Many joiners who were squarewrights today have evolved into undertakers these days due to their working with the wooden coffins. This latter work tied in well with the Trade’s hiring out of Mortcloths for funerals. Indeed the focus on this area of business extended into hiring out of hearses, as well as providing
the lustre fpr the candles round the coffin.

Further sources of income came from charging for the Trade’s officer to attend a funeral, and for clothing the officer, and further income from clothing the undertaker’s employees for the occasion.

According to records, however, the Wright’s income, as with other Trades, saw the income from funerals, and hiring of Mortcloths lose favour during the second half of the Nineteenth Century, and drop away.

Like all the Trades, they owned shares in the various Churches that got built, but like all trades, these ventures were rarely without a long term cost, and disposal of these interests duly followed. But the Wrights were very keen on property investment, and this grew to be a mojor part of their activities during the nineteenth century. They both bought and built new property culminating in their building of a Wrights Hall in 1825. This building was a source of great pride, and saw use from the United Trades to hold meetings there. The tavern keeper in the adjoining building looked after the premises, and supplied refreshments for meetings.

The investment in property was done by borrowing money as well. And whilst this permitted significant property to be accumulated, it at times, almost overcame the Trade with the cost of upkeep and servicing the debt.

Whilst managing the many properties became a major burden, the employment of Factors to collect and do these tasks was common. However, dissatisfaction with the level of service received, led to many members forming committees to do this themselves.

The levels of debt, however, came home to roost during the economic difficulties of the 1840’s, where only large number of membership fees kept the show on the road.

Fortunately, when 1846 removed this source of income, a recovery in the economy removed the financial problems of dealing with a further reduced source of income. And when a compulsory purchase by the Commissioners of Police of Dundee of their main properties around the Nethergate took place in 1875, the Trade moved to complete its disenchantment with property by selling up everything by 1876 and creating a significant pot.

It then proceeded to give it all away to its current and past members! As a pendicle of the Guildry, matters of discipline often required the Dean of Guild to be in attendance for justice to be enforceable.

The act of 1846, of course, removed the major rationale of the trade, but its numbers ensured a strong financial base for its endurance.

The Trade once again invested in property into the twentieth century, and during this period, benefitted from the growth in value that property brought. Despite having since sold these assets, the membership enjoy the fruits of this investment, which have been further invested rather than following the example of their forefathers in handing it out to the membership!

The larger numbers of members also helped the Annual Exploration of Wrights to flourish and continue to recent times, as they travelled by land and sea to areas and places of interest, as they enjoyed and celebrated their history.