Neighbourood guilds

Dutch: Buurtgilde

A neighbourhood guild was an urban association of people living in the same neighbourhood or street, who organized themselves to promote sociability within their community, and to further the social, economic and political desires of this community. The organization structure was similar to that of the craft guilds, but contained people living closely together in the same neighbourhood, instead of being organized according to occupation (though often, neighbourhoods consisted of individuals with the same occupation) (Dorren, 1998; Coit, 1891, 7-8 (he perhaps depicts the ideal situation, not the practical one)).

Neighbourhood guilds — like other types of institutions for collective action — needed official city approval to enable them to set their own regulations and sanctions.

Neighbourhood guilds in the Netherlands

In Holland, the buurtgilden or gebuurten (neighbourhood guilds) were associations that most likely originated in the Middle Ages and were established institutions by the seventeenth century in the cities of Haarlem, Utrecht, Den Haag and Leiden (and likely also in other cities). An executive committee chosen from its own — most prominent and affluent — members administrated these guilds.

The neighbourhood guilds provided two important services: conviviality and order, which could take the form of mediation/bargaining or providing mutual aid. Contributions and entrance fees were deposited into the neighbourhood box, to which neighbours had to contribute according to their financial capacity. Also, deposits were made at important life events, such as a birth or marriage.

Just like craft guilds, the city administration needed to ratify the neighbourhood guild’s official foundation. The guild needed the authorities to enforce the regulations.

Neighbourhood guilds were versatile organizations that could be used as pressure groups to expel certain (polluting) occupations from the area, to supply carriers for a funeral or to watch over orphans when their parents deceased. These functions overlapped with those of the craft guild. To what extent the neighbourhood guilds and craft guilds overlapped or complemented each other is a question for further research.

(G. Dorren, 1998, ‘Het Soet vergaren’. Haarlems buurtleven in de zeventiende eeuw)