Friday Photo: Brotherhood of the Bakers

Bakers Guild Village of DeanAs with our last Friday Photo, this image somewhat postdates the Middle Ages in a strict sense, but perfectly illustrates the trend towards greater specialisation in crafts that began with the growth of towns in the 12th century. Prior to this, very few towns had the agricultural surplus to support a range of trades, such as blacksmithing, pottery, tailoring, etc. As trade boomed and many towns grew, however, new social organisations developed. Charters provided the shape for municipal authority, while guilds regulated the production of goods and the teaching of their craft. By extension, they became a source of pride and communal identity, often conducting religious ceremonies and engaging in politics on behalf of their members. In this picture, we see the crest of the Bakers’ Guild of the Village of Dean, Scotland. The town was for centuries known for its many water mills that ground grain into flour, making the bakers an integral part of the local economy. Their crest, with two crossed trays topped with loaves at centre, is an excellent demonstration of the professional and civic pride that developed throughout the final mediaeval centuries and influenced the shape of modern social life.

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2 thoughts on “Friday Photo: Brotherhood of the Bakers

  1. Why did the towns begin to grow in the 12th century and what caused the agricultural surplus? I’m pretty rusty on this area. I love these civic remnants of the vital life of the guilds. Even with all the destruction of the past centuries, so much remains to tell the tale of an extraordinary European development which doesn’t have an exact counterpart today.

    • That’s a good question, and, as you might expect, it has several answers. Probably the most important factor was simply population growth, which occurred from about the 9th through the 13th century (and was only halted by famines and the endemic plagues of the 15th century.) With a growing rural population and a greater amount of land under cultivation, many areas began producing above the subsistence level. This is one important factor that enabled towns to grow. At the same time, there were several innovations in farming, such as crop rotations, ploughs, etc. that also contributed. That, plus increases in Mediterranean trade and the desire of land-owners to profit from market centres under their control, caused an urban boom.

      Of course, there are many other factors too, but that’s a basic outline. :)
      Certainly, the artisan guilds are rather unique. Not exactly like a modern union, although they do have a few similarities with the futuwwa organisations in the Islamic World. Both guilds and futuwwa had a religious component, for example, and often involved people in the same profession. I suppose it demonstrates the increasing importance of one’s profession as a source of status and social identity.

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