Ref NoDD528
Acc No528
TitleSociety of Advocates in Aberdeen
DescriptionThe official record of the Society of Advocates consists of minutes (1776-1936); accounts (1798-1983); ledgers (1869-1966); cash books (1871-1881); vouchers (1659-1983); letter books, (1830-1979); cartularies and title deeds (18th-20th centuries); records relating to the Library (1822-1975); records relating to the construction of new premises (1835-1877); registers of members (1805-1913); and Widows Fund accounts (1822-1963).

The collection also includes records relating to the Society of Writers (1835-1837); the Society of Solicitors (1886-1913); as well as the Joint Legal Societies of Scotland (1934-1941).

Also gifted were various collections of antiquarian origin, notably papers bequeathed to the Society by John Stuart, LL. D., (1813-1877), local author and editor of the Spalding Club. Also a number of illustrated notebooks of local artist James Logan.
Date1598 - 1983
CreatorSociety of Advocates in Aberdeen
Extent45 linear metres
​Open or Restricted AccessOpen
Access ConditionsAll records are open for inspection.
Administrative HistoryNo definite foundation date can be determined for Aberdeen's Society of Advocates as much of its pre-18th century records were lost in a fire at the Commissary Clerk of Aberdeenshire's offices in Castle Street in 1721. Although the Society obtained its first Crown Charter in 1774, it seems evident from surviving material elsewhere that a fraternity of procurators and notaries, concerned with the exchange of professional expertise and mutual assistance, was in existence from the 16th or 17th century.

According to the historian William Kennedy, legal practitioners in Aberdeen had distinguished themselves as 'advocates' from as early as the mid-1500s, (Annals of Aberdeen, 1818). However, it has not been determined on whose authority this honour was allegedly granted. Regardless of its historical origins, the title of The Society of Advocates in Aberdeen was confirmed by a succession of royal charters of 1774, 1799 and 1862, and conferred on members the right to designate themselves as 'advocates'.

Membership of the Society was obligatory for any person intent on entering the legal profession in Aberdeen until well into the 19th century. Hopeful applicants had to demonstrate their knowledge of Latin and to have attended two sessions at either King's or Marischal College. They had also to be 'of good character'. Having got thus far, applicants were apprenticed to a member for five years (four years if a graduate in Arts). On completion of their apprenticeship, the applicants were examined by a committee to determine their proficiency in Scots Law and Conveyancing. If they passed this, they were admitted as full members of the Society, with its attendant privileges and obligations.

The most important function exercised by the Society, prior to the establishment of The Law Society of Scotland in 1948, was the consideration of bills before Parliament. These were debated at length by members before their comments or amendments were forwarded to Westminster.

In addition to passing professional judgement on legislation, the Society was early committed to providing financial assistance to needy members, their widows and orphans. To this end, a fund was established, possibly in 1685, from which allowances were issued to various qualifying persons. The fund was supported by entry monies, annual subscriptions and apprentices' fees. Revenue was also secured through investment in property; the Society owned 'The Doctors' Houses' in the Hardgate (1744); the Lands of Gallowhill and Mardyke (purchased 1747); Foresterhill (1790); Wester Hatton (1827); and Hill Cairnie at Skene (1847). By the mid-20th century, the burdens associated with land ownership resulted in the Lands Committee selling the properties and investing the capital in stocks and shares. The Society of Advocates was also responsible for a considerable library of reference works, although pressure on space resulted in the sale at auction of several thousand volumes between 1976 and 1978.

Meetings of the Society took place variously in the New Inn, the Lemon Tree Inn or the Record Office until, in 1820, they were granted the use of a room in the new Court House. A purpose-built Hall at the corner of Back Wynd and Union Street was designed in 1837 by the City Architect, John Smith. This property was subsequently sold in 1870 at which date the Society moved to a new Advocates Hall in Concert Court, designed by James Matthews.

Archival history
The records were held at Advocates Hall in Concert Court, Aberdeen, prior to their permanent deposit with Aberdeen City Archives in December 2001 (accession 528). The collection is currently split between the two City Archives offices: the minute books from 1776 until 1936 have been retained at the Town House, along with the catalogued antiquarian papers, while the remainder of the collection is held at Old Aberdeen House.

Two partial surveys of Society records were carried out in the 1980s. The City Archivist compiled a list in 1982 of the main record series as well as the bundled vouchers and antiquarian papers. In 1986, a selection of writs relating to lands in the Sheriffdoms of Aberdeen, Banff, Elgin, Forres and Fife, dating from 1345 to 1789, was temporarily transferred to staff at the National Register of Archives, Scotland, to be listed (NRAS survey number 2727). These survey lists have been retained for information and can be consulted in the collection catalogues in the City Archives searchrooms.
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