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Burghs were essentially urban settlements which enjoyed trading privileges from medieval times until 1832 and which regulated their own affairs to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the type of burgh) until the abolition of Scottish burghs in 1975. Burgh status has implications for historical records. Separate valuation rolls and electoral rolls were compiled by royal and police burghs until 1975. 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.

Royal burghs
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. 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
Parliamentary burghs were royal burghs and many burghs of barony and regality on which elected town councils were imposed by parliament in 1832-33. Police burghs were towns which adopted local or national acts of parliament to adopt an elected town council, which was responsible for policing, paving, lighting and cleansing. Between 1900 and 1975 over 100 police burghs were created. Some were existing royal burghs and burghs of barony or regality. Others were new creations - growing towns which wanted to control industrial pollution, crime and so on.

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.