In medieval times burghs allowed a community
of merchants and craftsmen to live and work outside the feudal system.
In return each burgh paid large sums of money to its creator (the
crown, an abbot, a bishop, or a secular baron). Burghs were first
created in Scotland in the twelfth century. Some were ancient towns
already (such as Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen). Others
were entirely new creations, often in the shadow of a royal castle
such as Ayr). By 1707 three types of burgh existed: royal burghs,
burghs of regality and burghs of barony.
Most royal burghs were sea ports, and each
was either created by the crown, or upgraded, as it were, from another
status, such as burgh of barony. An important document for each
burgh was its burgh charter, creating the burgh or confirming the
rights of the burgh as laid down (perhaps verbally) by a previous
monarch. Each royal burgh (with the exception of four 'ineffective
burghs') was represented in the Scottish parliament and could appoint
magistrates with wide powers in civil and criminal justice. By 1707
there were 70 royal burghs.
Burghs of regality and barony
These were burghs granted by the crown to
a secular or ecclesiastical landowner. A burgh of regality was granted
to a lord of regality, i.e. one of the leading Scottish nobles who
held very large estates and had wide powers in criminal and civil
law. A burgh of barony was granted to a tenant-in-chief, a landowner
who held his estates directly from the crown. Over 300 burghs of
barony or regality were created between 1450 and 1707, but many
did not survive for long, and many others were 'parchment burghs'
(burghs erected by landowners, which never developed into the market
towns they hoped for).
Parliamentary and police burghs
In the second half of the eighteenth century
and the first decades of the nineteenth century there were growing
calls for reform of the burghs. Many suffered from financial mismanagement
and corruption, particularly regarding parliamentary representation,
and larger towns faced problems coping with industrial pollution,sewerage
disposal and water supply. In 1800 Glasgow obtained a local act
of parliament to set up a system of policing, whereby a body of
police commissioners, elected by householders, oversaw a police
force, and the maintenance of paving, lighting and cleansing the
streets. Other Scottish burghs obtained similar local acts in the
next few years, including Edinburgh in 1805. In 1832 and 1833 legislation
converted royal burghs and many burghs of barony and regality into
parliamentary burghs with elected councils. The Burgh Police (Scotland)
Act allowed burghs to adopt policing, paving, lighting and cleansing
powers through a sheriff court process (which was much less expensive
than an act of parliament). Under the Police of Towns (Scotland)
Act 1850 and the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act 1862
hese (and further public health) powers were extended to populous
places, and the result was the creation of over 100 'police burghs'.
The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1890 ended the anomaly whereby some
burghs had an elected body of police commissioners and a town council,
and granted further powers to burghs.
Twentieth century burghs
In 1930 (under the Local Government (Scotland)
Act, 1929) burghs were divided into counties of cities (Glasgow,
Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee), large burghs, and small burghs.
Burghs were abolished in 1975 and replaced by district councils,
which in turn were replaced by current local authorities in 1996.Burgh
Records burghs produced characteristic forms of historical record,
such as court books, guild records, registers of deeds, financial
accounts, and, latterly, records of burgh institutions such as schools
and libraries. The Scottish Archive Network is in the process of
compiling information about Scottish burghs and where historical
records relating to burghs can be found. At present the best guide
to the whereabouts of burghs records in Scotland is the Scottish
Records Association's Datasheet 6. This should be available
in most Scottish archives and reference libraries. It is, however,
somewhat out of date, as it refers to the holdings of archives and
libraries prior to local government reorganization in 1995. Other
useful books are Michael Cox, Exploring Scottish History,
2nd edition (Hamilton, 1999), and Cecil Sinclair, Tracing Scottish
Local History (Edinburgh, 1994).
To search for information about a particular
For a list of Scottish royal burghs and police