A Burgh is an Autonomy corporate entity in Scotland, usually a town. This type of administrative division has existed since the 12th century, when David I created the first Royal burghs. Recognition of burgh status today, however, has little more than ceremonial value. Burgh status is broadly analagous to borough status, found in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Under the Reform Acts of 1832, 32 years after the merger of the Parliament of Great Britain into the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the boundaries of burghs for parliamentary elections ceased to be necessarily their boundaries for other purposes.
Until 1833, each burgh had a different constitution or "sett". The government of the burgh was often in the hands of a self-nominating corporation, and few local government functions were performed: these were often left to ad hoc bodies.
Two pieces of reforming legislation were enacted in 1833: The Royal Burghs (Scotland) Act (3 & 4 Will. IV c.76) and the Burghs and Police (Scotland) Act (3 & 4 Will. IV c.46).
The Royal Burghs Act provided for the election of magistrates and councillors. Each burgh was to have a common council consisting of a provost (or lord provost), magistrates (or bailies) and councillors. Every parliamentary elector living within the "royalty" or area of the royal burgh, or within seven statute miles of its boundary, was entitled to vote in burgh elections. One third of the common council was elected each year. The councillors selected a number of their members to be bailies, who acted as a magistrates bench for the burgh, and dealt with such issues as licensing. The provost, or chief magistrate, was elected from among the council every three years. The Royal Burghs Act was also extended to the 12 parliamentary burghs which had recently been enfranchised. These were growing industrial centres, and apart from the lack of a charter, they had identical powers and privileges to the royal burghs. Royal Burghs retained the right to corporate property or "common good". This property was used for the advantage of the inhabitants of the burgh, funding such facilities as public parks, museums and civic events.
The Burghs and Police Act allowed the inhabitants of Royal Burghs, Burghs of Regality and of Barony to adopt a "police system". "Police" in this sense did not refer to law enforcement, but to various local government activiities summarised in the Act as "paving, lighting, cleansing, watching, supplying with water, and improving such Burghs respectively, as may be necessary and expedient". The Act could be adopted following its approval in a poll of householders in the burgh. Burghs reformed or created under this and later legislation became known as police burghs. The governing body of a police burgh were the police commissioners. The commissioners were elected by the existing town council of the burgh, not by the electorate at large. The town council of a burgh could by a three-quarters majority become police commissioners for the burgh. In many cases this led to the existence of two parallel burgh administrations, the town council and the police commissioners, each with the same membership, but separate legal identity and powers. Further legislation in 1850 allowed "populous places" other than existing burghs to become police burghs.
In 1893 most of the anomalies in the administration of burghs were removed: police commissioners were retitled as councillors and all burghs were to consist of a single body corporate, ending the existence of parallel burghs. All burghs of barony and regality that had not adopted a police system were abolished. Councils were to be headed by a chief magistrate using the "customary title" of the burgh In 1900 the chief magistrate of every burgh was to be known as the provost - except in burghs granted a lord provost.
The last major legislation to effect burghs came into effect in 1930. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929 divided burghs into three classes:
The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 formally abolished burghs. Section 1(5) of the Act stated: On 16th May 1975, all local government areas existing immediately before that date, that is to say, all counties, counties of cities, large burghs, small burghs and districts, shall cease to exist, and the council of every such area shall also cease to exist. The use of the title continues in informal use, however.
The common good properties and funds of the royal burghs continue to exist. They are administered by the present area councils, who must make "have regard to the interests of the inhabitants of the area to which the common good formerly related". The use of these assets are to be for the benefit of the inhabitants of the former burgh. Any person or body holding the honorary freedom of any place... formerly having the status of a city, burgh or royal burgh continued to enjoy that status after the 1975 reorganisation.
Early Burghs were granted the power to trade, which allowed them to control trade until the 19th century. the population of Burgesses could be roughly divided between merchants and craftsmen, and the tensions between the interests of the two classes was often a feature of the cities. Craftsmen were usually organised into guilds. Merchants also had a guild, but many merchants did not belong to it, and it would be run by a small group of the most powerful merchants. The class of merchants included all traders, from stall-holders and pack-men to shop-holders and traders of considerable wealth.
The English language borough, like the Scots Burgh, is derived from the same Old English language word burh (whose dative singular and nominative/accusative plural form byrig sometimes underlies modern place-names, and which had dialectal variants including burg; it was also sometimes confused with beorh, beorg, 'mound, hill', on which see Hall 2001, 69-70). The Old English word was originally used for a fortified town or proto-castle (e.g., at Dover Castle or Burgh Castle) and was related to the verb beorgan (cf. Dutch and German bergen), meaning "to keep, save, make secure". In German Burg means castle, though so many towns grew up around castles that it almost came to mean city, and is incorporated into many placenames, such as Hamburg and Strasbourg),
The word has cognates, or near cognates, in other Germanic languages. For example, burg in German, and borg in both Danish and Swedish. The equivalent word is also to be found in Frisian, Dutch, Norwegian, and Icelandic. In southern England, the word took the form bury, as in Canterbury (Stewart 1967:193).
A number of other European languages have cognate words which were borrowed from the Germanic languages during the Middle Ages, including brog in Irish, bwr or bwrc, meaning "wall, rampart" in Welsh, bourg in French, borgo in Italian, and burgo in Spanish (hence the place-name Burgos).
The most obviously derivative words are burgher in English, Bürger in German or burger in Dutch (literally citizen, with connotations of middle-class in English and other Germanic languages). Also related are the words bourgeois and belfry (both from the French), and burglar. More distantly, it is related to words meaning hill or mountain in a number of languages (cf. the second element of iceberg).
And as a placename on its own, in the West Germanic countries: