A police burgh
was a Scottish burgh
which had adopted a “police system” for
governing the town. They existed from 1833 to 1975.
The 1833 act
The first police burghs were created under the Burgh Police
(Scotland) Act, 1833
(3 & 4 Wm IV c.46). This act
enabled existing royal burghs
, burghs of regality
, and burghs of barony
to adopt powers of paving,
lighting, cleansing, watching, supplying with water and improving
This preceded the Municipal Corporations Act
, which introduced a similar reform in England and Wales
, by two years.
Forming a police burgh
In order for the act to be adopted in any burgh, an application by
householders in the town had to be made for a poll to be held. If
three quarters of qualified voters were in favour, the act would
come into force in the burgh. Inhabitants were also free to choose
which parts of the act to adopt.
Boundaries for the police burgh were to be set out, which could be
extended up to in any direction from the limits of the existing
burgh. Contiguous burghs were allowed to unite for police burgh
purposes. The boundaries agreed were recorded in the sheriff court
books for the county.
A body of elected police commissioners was to administer the police
burgh, between five and twenty-one in number. The chief magistrate
of the existing burgh was to be, ex-officio, a commissioner.
Commissioners were to be elected annually.
Powers and duties
The commissioners could, on applying the relevant sections of the
act, collect and apply sums of money for the purposes of:
- employing collectors, clerks, constables, surveyors, police
officers, watchmen, etc.
- purchasing lands
- lighting streets by gas or other means
- paving and cleansing streets
- distributing water and gas
- preventing infectious diseases
A further act was passed (3 & 4 Wm. IV, c.77) later in 1833 to
extend local government to the thirteen burghs newly enfranchised
by the Reform Act 1832
inhabitants were permitted to elect magistrates and councillors and
adopt a “general system of police”. The burghs thus created
Changes in legislation
The General Police (Scotland) Act, 1847
11 Vict. c.39) reduced the majority of householders required to
adopt the police system from three quarters to two thirds. It also
allowed the parliamentary burghs to adopt the burgh police act, and
to levy for moneys to carry out municipal government.
The Police of Towns (Scotland) Act, 1850
(13 & 14 Vict.
c.33) - also known as
“Lock’s Act” - repealed much of the earlier legislation. It also
made it easier for police burghs to be created. Any “populous
place” was now allowed to adopt a police system and become a burgh.
A populous place was defined as any town, village, place or
locality not already a burgh and with a population of 1,200
inhabitants or upwards. At the same time, a poll in favour of
adopting the act now needed only a simple majority.
The General and Police Improvement (Scotland) Act,
(25 & 26 Vict. c.101) set out again the powers of
police burghs. It also introduced a system by which commissioners
of burghs could apply to the county sheriff for an extension of the
The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892
(55 & 56
Vict. c.55), which came into effect on 15 May 1893, superseded all
earlier general and police acts in burghs. Each burgh was now
united as a single body corporate for police and municipal purposes
– in some cases a previous royal burgh or burgh of barony or
regality had continued to exist alongside the police burgh. Any
remaining burghs of barony or regality that had not adopted the
police acts were implicitly dissolved. Populous places that could
become a burgh were now to have a population of 2,000 or more –
though where a place with a lower population resolved to adopt the
act, it was at the county sheriff’s discretion to allow or refuse
such an application. Police commissioners were now to be retitled
councillors, headed by a magistrate under whatever title was
customary in the burgh.
The Town Councils (Scotland) Act, 1900
64 Vict. c.49) retitled the governing body of a burgh as “the
, magistrates, and
councillors” of the burgh. In certain burghs the title Lord Provost
was to be continued.
The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1903
(3 Edw. VII.
c.33) amended the 1892 Act and included a number of provisions
relating to building within a burgh. The burgh was to maintain a
register of plans and petitions (in modern terms a register of
planning permissions). Permitted developments were to be issued
building warrants by the town council, and the burgh surveyor was
empowered to enforce the warrants and rectify unauthorised
building. New powers were given to town councils in relation to
maintenance of footpaths and public rubbish bins, and the placing
of advertisement hoardings and scaffolding. Minimum standards were
set for the height and internal space of new buildings and on
overcrowding, and for the width of streets. Powers were given to
the burgh to make new streets and openings. Also included in the
Act were various sundry powers and duties including: the compulsory
lighting of vehicles, licensing for billiard halls and ice cream
shops, prohibition on betting in the street, powers on controlling
milk supply, and penalties for littering.
The Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929
burghs, royal or police, into “large” and “small” burghs.
List of burghs in