Nine Trades Archive Site

This is an archived version of the previous Nine Trades website. It has been retained due to the valuable historical research and documentation it contains.

A new site was developed in 2020 and is available at


The Fraternity of Maltmen were the Brewers of Beer in a burgh. The following is a brief look at the Craft in earlier centuries.
The price of beer is too high.  The tax on beer is disgraceful. The weakest beer on the market carries 44% tax in total. This is not about today, when the tax is only about 25%, but in 1700. Plus ca change as they say somewhere else.

Let me tell you how the burgh of Dundee was run in earlier times. It was controlled by a self-electing Council of 21 people. Nest in priority came the merchants who traded and made vast sums of money, making Dundee the second wealthiest burgh in Scotland. Many of them were Guild Brothers who had four seats on the Council. Finally we have the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee who were also powerful, had three seats on the Council, audited the Council Accounts and constantly fought for the ordinary people All the other trades, the Fraternity of Masters & Seamen, the Three United Trades and the Maltmen were called pendicles of the Guildry. This meant that they had no voice in the running of the burgh and their interests would be looked after by the Guildry. In effect they were Associate Members. In truth the Guildry did very little for them, but in the case of the Maltmen, when they paid their dues, half of them were grabbed by the Guildry. This then was the situation in the burgh.

The Maltmen were without doubt the largest of all the trades of Dundee. In the 1600’s there were around 100 of them in a town whose population was in the order of 6/8,000. In the 40 year period from 1661 to 1700 there were 240 apprentices recorded and there would have been many more who were never registered. The reason for this was because of the quality of the water. The Lady Well for example which was fed from Tod’s Burn was well known for its fizzy water, and there is only one thing that produces that. Cholera epidemics were regular, as the Howff and other records prove. The lucky ones had their own well in their yards but they guarded them carefully and they were not open to anyone else. Water was so dangerous that beer was the only safe thing to drink. Small Beer, as it was called, was safe to drink in large quantities because its strength was only around 1%. Several trades included a gallon of beer as part of a journeyman’s daily wage. This alone gives the lie to the myth that it was because the guards were drunk by 11 o’clock in the morning that General Monck’s troops were able to storm the town. It would have taken a full gallon of beer, their daily allowance, to be the equivalent of a pint today. Strong ale on the other hand was mostly brewed for the gentry. For them we also imported wines, mainly from Bordeaux by the shipload. Surprisingly up to 20% of the cargo went missing from shrinkage or evaporation. Anyone wanting to drink seriously in the early days would use either gin or brandy. They were mostly contraband, Nicoll’s one and Nicoll’s two they were called. The sign for gin was to raise the right thumb and for brandy the forefinger and middle finger raised together. Whisky was not a popular drink until the 1800’s.

An apprenticeship in the Brewing trade was very short and only for a period of one or two years. After that they could set up in business and as a result many brewers were not good business men and went bankrupt. This was one of the few trades in which the women played a larger role. There are at least ten times as many women mentioned as having taverns and brew houses than in any other trade. They were, of course widows of Maltmen, and women brewing and running a tavern was quite common and an accepted practice. I may have also been because the husband spent too much time sampling his own product, or perhaps because they were better business people than their husband.

On 27th January, 1698, John Fleming was entered as a freemaster. Opposite the admission in the Locked Book, an entry reads­ “Dundee, 24th November, 1737, John Fleminis name is, by order of the fraternity, deleted out of this their locked book of Freemasters, because he, being a Kirk Elder was, by his own confession, emitted before the Session, on the first day of November instant or yrby convicted of stealing the poor’s money, so that he is no longer a free master among the malt­men.” At the start of an apprenticeship would come the ceremony of “head washing”. In 1739 The Maltmen met in the new Church, “and considering that the practice of brothering or head washing new entrant apprentices or servants is contrary to the Municipal Laws of the burgh, and is often the cause of abuses and immoralities, besides being a heavy charge upon said parties”. Brothering would mean that they were entered into the brotherhood of Maltmen. “Therefore they dis­charged the practice for the future, and ordained that no free master shall allow any meeting of Maltmen lads, for this purpose, to be in any of their houses, nor afford them meat or drink, nor be present thereat or give countenance thereto, under the penalty of £12 Scots, to be paid to the Boxmr, toties quoties.” Then it goes on to say “but if any such entrant pleases to give a moderate refreshment to the other lads in the same malthouse, he may do so, providing there be not more than six persons present, nor more than one pint of ordinary two penny ale given to each person present, and no other liquor whatever to be used.” Further in the entry “As this will be a considerable ease to the entrant, he is to pay 20s Scots of additional dues. Also, as the Fraternity wish to save all they can to the poor, no free master on entering shall be obliged to give any entertainment to the other free masters, but shall instead pay 40s Scots to the Boxmr for the use of their poor”. However the practice did not stop and in 1834, “it was enacted that apprentices on their entry may or may not have their heads washed, as shall suit their own inclination, but the dues to the Trade were to be paid within 14 days from the commence­ment of their apprenticeship, under a penalty of 10s 6d, for which the master was liable to the Trade That no master or journeyman be present at a head washing unless one pound be paid to the Trade in name of booking money”. It does not say what happened in detail, but it was standard practice well into the 20th century to humiliate a new apprentice entering in any trade. This ceremony happened at the start of the apprenticeship, and as with all the other trades it was a good excuse for ‘a knees up’. Whether or not the origins were connected with hygiene and head-lice is not certain, but it seems unlikely possibly the addition of some extra lice protein in the beer might have been welcomed.

Jas VI & Charles II proscribed maltmen forbidding them to have a lockit book, kist, Deacon or any other official. There is no explanation for this very odd act, and it would appear to have been completely ignored not only by the Maltmen but by the Guildry and the authorities. The Maltmen were too good a source of easy income. The Maltmen did indeed have a Minute Book, as well as a Visitor or Deacon. They did keep Accounts and other records and the Deacon attended many Guild Meetings. Unfortunately there is no Lockit Book as such which was reserved for the list of Masters when they joined the Craft and which would have carried the Acts and Statutes of the Craft. Whether this was because of the Acts of Parliament or whether it is simply lost we have no way of knowing at present. This information can only be gleaned from Minute Books and other records.

There were problems also after the siege of Dundee in 1651. The maltmen had made a voluntary contribution of two merks on each boll of malt in addition to the two merks crown duty, to help rebuild the burgh. However in 1706, Queen Anne, because of the damage done during Charles I day and the sacking of the burgh by Cromwell, granted an extra charge of 2 pence on the pint to be used for repairing the harbour, the town house and the hospital. This was to last for 24 years. The council, however, 4 years before the end of that period applied for, and got, an extension for a further 25 years for the same purpose. Again in 1756, 1781 and 1802 the council played the same trick. The trade suddenly realised what was happening and petitioned parliament not to renew the act. They detailed their reasons, including the fact that the money was always needed for the same purposes and had been used for other things. They also produced accounts which showed that the burgh had lots of spare money of their own at that time and did not need the extra tax. 2 pence on the pint was not really a particularly high figure. The two pence was Scots money and a Scots penny was only about a twelfth of a penny Sterling. The two pennies tax was eventually dropped. The tax on beer included Thirlage, all grain had to be ground in the burgh mills along with Multure, a charge for the milling. In 1755 this was 1 peck on each boll or one sixteenth on the corn – on every steeping of malt, – Crown duties – and if the minutes are anything to go by, a degree of corruption by the collectors of the King’s duties. There were constant arguments about thirlage despite the fact that the Maltmen had entered into an agreement with the burgh in 1678 guaranteeing that there would be at least 1,2600 Roods of Malt made at the burgh mills and no Malt would be ground elsewhere. There were 100 signatures to this document and included the Magistrates of the burgh and, once again, shows how large the trade was at this time. They also paid part of the Ministers Stipend, a sum for the upset of their booths, entry to the Guildry as well as their own trade dues.

Problems regularly arose because the burgh did not keep its mills, or indeed anything else, in good condition. Here is an extract from 1744 : “Yea this same Week our situation was this, the Wind Miln wanted wind, the Sea Miln wanted water & very frequently has no Water especially since bringing in the lady Well by Lead Pipes into the Town for this Lady Well was a considerable spring running into the sd Miln Damn, but not only is it now diverted but also the pipes of it stop the passage of a small Burn called the Denburn which used to run into the said Damn but is also now diverted, & the Maltmiln on Dighty wants a Damn by reason that the Damn Dyke has been broke down for near three Months past. Now what must the Maltmen do in such a Case? Must they give over brewing & must the good Town want the barm? The Town has been sometimes oblidged to send their own Multure malt to other Milnes to be grund when they had neither wind nor Water to grind it at their own Milnes & what could the Maltmen them do otherwayes than the Magistrates themselves. There are also two Sheel (Steel) Milns (sheeling/shill stane – millstone to remove husks in first process) belonging to the Town which used to supply us with grund Malt when we could not be otherwayes served, but as to these we now complain that they are now worn out & not fit for Use & we also complain that when we had the Use of them we were obleidged to pay not only the same Multures as at the Wind or Water Milns but also to pay the Men who wrought these Sheel (Steel) Milns which came to be a considerable Charge upon us & which we apprehend was an unwarrantable Imposition”.

In 1791 the price of beer was set at: “Ale furnished in Barrels or Casks either to Retailers to private familys at the rate of Ten shillings Sterling for each Half barrel containing Five Scots Gallons and so in proportion for smaller quantitys. For all Ale retailed by them out of their own houses in Bottles at the rate of three pence half penny for each Two bottles. And for Ale sold and Drank in their own houses at the rate of Two pence Sterling each bottle and so in proportion for greater quantities”. The trade petitioned Parliament about the heavy taxes, claiming that the brewers in the suburbs, that is, outside the burgh walls, were excused many of these taxes. The trade said that “The greater part of the Beer brewed by the Brewers in the suburbs is consumed within the Burgh free of the tax in question. A very great part of the Beer brewed by the Pleasance Company is also vended and consumed within the town”. It would be no small co-incidence that Ballingalls had moved their brewery to the suburbs. Messers Thomas Miller, brewer at Perth road, David Miller, Brewer at Hawkhill were also named. In addition they claimed that the Pleasance Brewery, owned by Councillor Hugh Ballingall, one of their own members, had the contract from the town to supply all the ships coming to and going from the town. This was a huge contract. Since the late 1600’s there had been Ballingalls’ who had been Councillors, Baillies, Deacons of the Maltmen, a Lord Provost so you can see just why they had a monopoly on victualling ships. Remember too that Hugh was a Councillor during Provost Riddoch’s control of the town and you may realise why Ballingall’s Brewery became the largest in the city. A Hugh Ballingall was Deacon in 1887 and 1888. He was also Boxmaster from 1889 until 1910. William was Boxmaster from 1911 – 1920 and Deacon from 1921 – 1937, whilst another Hugh was Boxmaster from 1938 – 1945 and 1954 – 1959.

In 1816 a Captain John Ramsay left an endowment at the Asylum “by which he appoints £200 to be paid out upon interest and to supply the interest of it for the support of decayed aged Seamen and Brewers and their widows”. The asylum tried to take the money for their own use, but the Brewers were having none of it. However the relationship between seamen and brewers is interesting. A John Morgan entered the trade in 1642 and there were many Morgans’ over the years. In 1756 John Morgan’s father opened a bar in Thorter Row. This was the father of Morgan of Morgan academy. He sent his sons to the Grammar school where John was educated as a lawyer and his brother David a doctor. Misfortune dogged Morgan senior and he moved to smaller premises in Nethergate, the first Royal Oak. Sadly he died in poverty while young John and his brother were making their fortune from Indigo in India. When John junior died leaving money for the building of the Morgan Hospital the Brewers claimed that he had been one of their Members. That is quite possible, as the son of an existing Master, but because there is no Lockit Book we have no way of being sure as there is nothing about him in any of the other records.

During WWI Drinking laws were brought in reducing opening hours. Draconian laws were also passed forbidding the sale of alcohol on Sunday. The only people allowed to drink were those on board ship travelling from one destination to another. Early trips on steam ships were well organised and one steamship owner in particular made a great deal of money steaming back and forwards from Broughty Ferry to Dundee. It is from this innovation that we get the word “steaming” meaning drunk. Many of us will remember a similar practice when the law was altered slightly to include people travelling on a Sunday between one town and another. Then coach parties were laid on to places like Meigle, Newtyle and so on, where the landlord had to keep a book which every so called ‘traveller’ signed stating where he was travelling from and going to. Writing ‘Dundee to Dundee’ was quite acceptable as everyone knew that it was simply a way to get round the law. Times have changed, the local breweries have gone, beer is no longer brewed by the tavern keeper on his own premises. Breweries are international companies and people now drink what is often ironically known as ‘plastic’ beer. Happily thanks to CAMRA there is a body dedicated to keeping individual beers.

This then is a taste of The Fraternity of Maltman many of whose  extracts are found in this section.


The Nine Incorporated Trades Of Dundee
Scottish Charity Number: SC001673

See Also: The Three United Trades Of Dundee