Guides

Counties, cities and burghs

Background information

Counties

Burghs

Cities, large burghs and small burghs

Burghs and valuation rolls

Background information

Scotland was divided into 33 counties for many administrative and record keeping purposes (there were 34 counties before 1889). In addition Scotland had hundreds of burghs, which were towns that had a separate legal and administrative status. In the late 19th century the four largest burghs became cities (for local government purposes). If you are a researcher using Scottish records, it will greatly help you if you become familiar with Scottish counties, burghs and cities. You can read a separate guide on parishes and districts.     

Counties

Counties were administrative areas that corresponded originally with the jurisdiction of a sheriff. By the 18th century there were 34 sheriffdoms or counties. The Scottish counties were:

  • Aberdeenshire (or the County of Aberdeen)
  • Angus (or Forfarshire or the County of Forfar)
  • Argyll (or Argyllshire)
  • Ayrshire (or the County of Ayr)
  • Banffshire (or the County of Banff)
  • Berwickshire (or the County of Berwick)
  • Buteshire (or the County of Bute)
  • Caithness
  • Clackmannanshire (or the County of Clackmannan)
  • Dumfriesshire
  • Dunbartonshire
  • East Lothian
  • Fife
  • Inverness-shire
  • Kincardineshire
  • Kinross-shire
  • Kirkcudbrightshire
  • Lanarkshire
  • Midlothian
  • Moray
  • Nairnshire
  • Orkney
  • Peebleshire
  • Perthshire
  • Renfrewshire
  • Ross and Cromarty
  • Roxburghshire
  • Selkirkshire
  • Shetland
  • Stirlingshire
  • Sutherland
  • West Lothian
  • Wigtownshire

Burghs

Burghs were originally towns which had legal and trading rights and privileges granted by royal charter. Later many burghs became important for local government purposes. On both counts, historians need to grasp the concept of burghs and the distinct nature of their records.

Royal burghs, burghs of barony and burghs of regality

Between 1124 and 1400 more than 70 burghs were founded in Scotland. Royal burghs were created by the crown with the crown as the feudal superior. Burghs of barony and regality were created by royal charter but at the request of major landowners (such as earls, barons, bishops and abbots). Burghs each had their own town councils, courts of law, schools and churches. The individual people who enjoyed the burgh privileges were the burgesses and freemen (mostly merchants and craftsmen).  Many other craftsmen, labourers and others lived in burghs but were not allowed to trade freely or own property like burgesses and freemen.

Parliamentary burghs and police burghs

In the late 18th century and early 19th century some town councils were active in improving the urban environment and tackling disease, industrial pollution, policing and water supply. In the 19th century parliament encouraged local government by general acts and also attempted to control and regularise burgh politics. Parliamentary burghs were burghs given wider powers by parliament. Police burghs were burghs given control of what we would today call local government services.

Cities, large burghs and small burghs

In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, the four biggest towns in Scotland (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow) were individually given extensive local government and other powers and each was effectively made into a combination of burgh and county, and termed cities (for local government purposes).

In 1929 all burghs (except the four cities) were classed as either large burghs or small burghs, based on population size.  This had an effect on record keeping. For example, royal and parliamentary burghs originally had their own assessors and produced their own valuation rolls, whereas other burghs were included in respective county valuation rolls. From 1930 until 1974 only cities and large burghs had assessors and were allowed to produce their own valuation roll. All other burghs were included in the respective county valuation rolls.

Burghs and valuation rolls

To take an example, Airdrie burgh was included in the Lanarkshire county roll as part of New Monkland parish, until it became a large burgh in 1930 and thereafter it produced a separate valuation roll. The results for a search confined to New Monkland parish should find entries for the burgh of Airdrie. To take another example, Rutherglen burgh was mostly within Rutherglen parish but the burgh had its own assessor. The burgh assessor produced a roll for the burgh and the remainder of Rutherglen parish outside the burgh (the 'landward' part of the parish) was recorded in the Lanarkshire County valuation roll. The results for a search for Rutherglen parish should include entries for the burgh but a search confined to Rutherglen burgh should exclude entries from the landward roll.

Where possible all parishes that form part of a burgh have been identified and have been listed as the individual parishes and not just listed under the burgh. For example, Dumbarton and Old Kilpatrick parishes make up Dumbarton Burgh and the entries for Dumbarton Burgh have been listed Dumbarton and Old Kilpatrick parishes. However, where the assessor did not break a burgh down to parish level we have not been able to list entries by the correct parish; instead we have had to list the entries in the same way as the assessor has broken it down. Stirling Burgh, for example, is broken down by Stirling, Logie (Stirling) and St Ninians parishes for some indexed years, but only by Stirling parish in other years. Where this occurs you should search for a property using the dominant parish (in this case, Stirling parish) to try and find the property or person for which you are looking.

There are 90 burghs that have a separate valuation roll. Royal and parliamentary burghs originally had their own assessors and produced their own valuation rolls, whereas other burghs were included in respective county valuation rolls. From 1930 until 1974 only cities and large burghs had assessors and were allowed to produce their own valuation roll. All other burghs were included in the respective county valuation rolls. A list of burghs and covering dates can be found here.

  • VR1 Airdrie Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR2 Annan Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR3 Anstruther Easter Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR4 Anstruther Wester Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR5 Arbroath Burgh (1857-1957)
  • VR6 Auchtermuchty Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR7 Ayr Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR8 Banff Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR9 Bervie Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR10 Brechin Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR11 Burntisland Burgh (1855-1930
  • VR12 Campbeltown Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR13 Clydebank Burgh (1930-1957)
  • VR14 Coatbridge Burgh (1886-1957)
  • VR15 Crail Burgh (1856-1930)
  • VR16 Cromarty Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR18 Cullen Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR19 Culross Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR20 Cupar Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR21 Dingwall Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR22 Dornoch Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR23 Dumbarton Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR24 Dumfries Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR25 Dunbar Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR26 Dunfermline Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR27 Dysart Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR28 Earlsferry Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR29 Elgin Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR30 Falkirk Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR31 Falkland Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR32 Forfar Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR33 Forres Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR34 Fortrose Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR35 Galashiels Burgh (1869-1930)
  • VR36 Greenock Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR37 Haddington Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR38 Hamilton Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR39 Hawick Burgh (1868-1930)
  • VR40 Inverary Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR41 Inverkeithing Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR42 Inverness Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR43 Inverurie Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR44 Irvine Burgh (1855-1940)
  • VR45 Jedburgh Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR46 Kilmarnock Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR47 Kilrenny Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR48 Kinghorn Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR49 Kintore Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR50 Kirkcaldy Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR51 Kirkcudbright Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR52 Kirkwall Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR53 Lanark Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR54 Lauder Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR55 Leith Burgh (1855-1921)
  • VR56 Linlithgow Burgh (1855-1956)
  • VR57 Lochmaben Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR58 Montrose Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR59 Motherwell Burgh (1930-1957)
  • VR60 Musselburgh Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR61 Nairn Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR62 Newburgh Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR63 New Galloway Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR64 North Berwick (1855-1930)
  • VR65 Oban Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR66 Paisley Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR67 Peebles Burgh (1855-1967)
  • VR68 Perth Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR69 Peterhead Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR70 Pittenweem Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR71 Port Glasgow Burgh (1855-1956)
  • VR72 Portobello Burgh (1855-1896)
  • VR73 Queensferry (South) Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR74 Renfrew Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR75 Rothesay Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR76 Rutherglen Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR77 St Andrews Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR78 Sanquhar Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR79 Selkirk Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR80 Stirling Burgh (1855-1957)
  • VR81 Stranraer Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR82 Tain Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR83 Whithorn Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR84 Wick Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR85 Wigtown Burgh (1855-1930)
  • VR86 Aberdeen Burgh (1855-1975)
  • VR98 Dundee Burgh (1855-1975)
  • VR100 Edinburgh Burgh (1855-1975)
  • VR102 Glasgow Burgh (1855-1975)