Artisans and Craft Production in Nineteenth-Century Scotland

A University of Edinburgh online exhibition about Scottish artisans, their work and working lives between 1780 and 1914.

Thomas Hadden’s workshop, Edinburgh, ca. 1910


Thomas Hadden’s workshop, Edinburgh, ca. 1910


Metal Wares


This photograph shows three smiths working on the wrought iron gates designed by architect Robert Lorimer for the Thistle Chapel in Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral. The men are using hand tools and bench-fixed vices to shape the gate’s iron fretwork. The smith to the right is working on its interlocking lower section while the other two are using hammers and metal files to shape curved and lattice forms. Two finished sections of the gates can be seen leaning against the workshop walls.

The chapel was designed as a commission from the Trustees of The Order of the Thistle who wanted to create a meeting place for the Knights of the Order of the Thistle in a building that embodied nationalist spirit. When the commission was awarded to Lorimer in 1909 the Trustees stipulated that Scottish craftsmen should carry out as much of the work as possible. Hadden provided the metal door furniture and gates, the firm of W & A Clow carved the ornate choir stalls; Phoebe Traquair and Whytock and Reid were other Edinburgh-based contributors.. The Chapel’s granite and marble floor was the work of James Allen & Sons of Piershill, and the coloured glass the work of Aberdeen glass-stainer Douglas Strachan. On its completion in 1911 the Thistle Chapel represented the very best in Scottish craftsmanship in stonework, metal work and woodcarving.

Thomas Hadden (1871-1940) was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, to a metal working family from Haddington, East Lothian. He trained at Howgate near Edinburgh and worked for James Milne & Sons in Edinburgh before starting in business in partnership with his brother who was a wood carver. Hadden's reputation as a skilled art metal worker led to his involvement in numerous prestigious commissions, notably the garden ornaments and railings at Skirling House in Peebleshire. Architectural commissions were a key area of his business - he made gates and railings but also more whimsical features including weather vanes, shop signs and bootscrapers.

Hadden was at the helm of his workshop for over 40 years, and many of his employees remained with the firm throughout their working lives, but the 1930s and 1940s saw a period of change including a move to Murrayfield on the outskirts of the city. Robert died in 1940 but the workshop continued to execute architectural ironwork, including the Glasgow University Quincentenary gates (1952) and the J Eversden Henderson-designed memorial gates at the George Heriot School (1959).

Robert Lorimer (1864-1929) is perhaps Scotland’s best known Arts and Crafts architect, though prior to the Thistle Chapel he’d worked on only one previous ecclesiastical commission. Born in Edinburgh but raised in Fife, Lorimer trained as a furniture maker as well as an architect. He is notable for his employment of local craftsmen throughout his career.

Item Location

National Museums Scotland




“ Thomas Hadden’s workshop, Edinburgh, ca. 1910

,” Artisans in Scotland, accessed April 26, 2019,