[The following passage from the Chambers 1838 Gazetteer of Scotland appears on page 482-83. — George P. Landow.]

Burgal System, &c.

Glasgow, though endowed at an early period with the privileges of a burgh of regality, was not promoted to the rank of a royal burgh till the recent era of 1611. From this period till the reign of William and Mary, its privileges were at different times confirmed and extended, and the two latter joint sovereigns established the burgal system in a particular form, which has ever since continued in force, with the exception of a slight modification in 1801, at the instance of the convention of royal burghs. The set of the burgh, as now constituted, comprises a provost, three bailies of the merchants’ rank, and two of the trades’ rank; a master of works, who must be of the merchants' rank; and a treasurer of the merchants’ and trades’ rank alternately. These two officers are councillors ex officio. There is a bailie of the Gorbals, and a bailie and depute-bailie for the river, but they do not add to the number of councillors, and, like the treasurer, are chosen from each of the ranks alternately. The dean of guild and convener of the trades’ house are councillors ex officio during the first year they are in office, after which they must be elected ordinary councillors. Of councillors there are altogether twelve merchants and eleven tradesmen; and the number of incorporated trades is fourteen. The process of general election is annual, and is conducted in much the same close manner as in other royal burghs. The provost is styled lord and honourable, though, we believe only by courtesy, no other chief magistrate but that of Edinburgh having a chartered right to such titles. [Fountainhall, in his Diary, p. 59, alludes to this distinction in these words: “Sir Alexander Ramsay got a letter from the king, (Charles II.) in 1667. that he, as provost of Edinburgh, should have the same precedence that the Lord Mayor of London had, and that no other provost should be called Lord Provost but he.” — Book of Scotland, p. 69.]

There are various functionaries connected with the government of the burgh, as a chamberlain, town clerk, procurator fiscal, assessor, &c- Glasgow having been a town of limited importance at the time of the Union of the kingdoms, was admitted only to a fourth share of a member to the British parliament, joining in the election of a representative with the small neighbouring towns of Dumbarton, Rutherglen, and Renfrew.

The Merchants' House of Glasgow, from whence the merchant councillors are draughted, is a corporation of itself, consisting of all the merchant burgesses who have matriculated or paid a fee (of ten guineas on entrance.) The affairs of the corporation are managed by a council of thirty-six members. The Trades' House is of a similar kind, and is composed of deacons and members of crafts. The funds of both are dedicated to the purposes of a benefit society.

Although the burgal arrangements of Glasgow be far from free of those defects which characterise every royal burgh in the country; and although the members of the common council have been from time to time accused of being implicated in jobbing on the town's interests, it is nevertheless to be remarked, that the burgal government is of a much more efficient character than that of Edinburgh; the magistracy and council being generally composed of respectable merchants, whose habits of business, and disposition to take the sense of the people in all cases along with them, fit them in a peculiar manner for the execution of their duties. Though entrusted with the management of not a third part of the revenue, they lay it out to much greater advantage, and seldom permit the expenditure to exceed the income of the town.

In 1829, the town possessed heritable property, in land, houses, shops, feu-duties, burial-grounds, fishings, &c, to the value of £167,057, 9s. besides moveable property in sundry trusts, to the amount of £77,842, 17s. 6d. Against this accumulated sum of £244,900, 6s. 6d. stood £127,696, 15s. 8d. of debt. In the same year, the revenue, arising from the above and other sources, was £ 15,995, 16s. 3d. and the expenditure, including interest on debts, £15,381, 15s. 5d.

To those who may wonder at this happy state of things, as compared with the financial ar rangements of the Edinburgh municipality, may be pointed out, as its causes, the economical and business-like way in which every piece of public business is set about, the lowness of the official salaries, and above all things the comparative moderation of the price of churches and other public buildings. The salary of the Lord Provost, which at Edinburgh is £800, is only £40 at Glasgow. To build a good church, which at Edinburgh is done at an expense of upwards of £ 20,000, costs at Glasgow (we instance St. David's, which is really handsome) £7000, of which, moreover, £4000 was defrayed by the sale of sepulchral spaces of ground underneath. The conduct of the Glasgow magistracy, when brought into comparison with that of most other burgal administrations, is indeed worthy of all praise. So exemplary and disinterested has it been, that it has frequently called forth marks of approbation in parliament from reforming members, especially from Lord Archibald Hamilton, in his speech for reforming the burgbs; and the Lord Advocate Jeffrey has recently given a similar testimonial in its favour.

Police Establishment

Prior to 1800 the city was watched by men appointed by the magistracy and paid out of funds of the burgh; but in that year, the increasing population of the town and other considerations, made it very desirable that a separate establishment of police should take place. The magistrates, the corporations, and a considerable part of the community having joined in furthering the measure, a bill was brought into and carried through parliament, for establishing a police, vesting the management in the magistracy and commissioners chosen by the inhabitants. Since 1800, the hill has been twice renewed, and at present the system is considered more efficient and better regulated than any in Scotland, that of Edinburgh not excepted. The annual expense of the establishment is something above £10,000, or about the one half of that of Edinburgh. The cause of this economy of funds may be attributed, like the other details of management above alluded to, to that strong common sense which regulates almost all the public affairs of Glasgow, while the opposite effect is produced in the metropolis by the introduction of a class of persons into the police board who are often above interfering in what they conceive to be the meaner details of office. The town and suburbs are divided into twenty-four wards, commissioners for which are elected annually. The police office of Glasgow is situated in South Albion Street, and is the only edifice in Scotland built for the purpose.

Civil and Criminal Courts

Court of Justiciary. — Glasgow is the seat of a circuit Court of Justiciary, which is held here in the months of April and September, and during the Christmas holidays, when there is a short recess in the Court of Session at Edinburgh. The jurisdiction of this supreme criminal court extends over the counties of Lanark, Renfrew, and Dumbarton. This court, as usual, also gives judgment in civil cases, in appeals, when the sum at issue does not exceed £25. An elegant spacious hall for its sittings has been fitted up in the same large edifice with which the jail is connected.

Inferior Courts. — Glasgow being the seat of a sheriff-substitute for the Lower Ward of Lanarkshire, a court of this functionary is held here in the ordinary terms. A justice of peace small debt court is held on the first Monday of every month, or oftener as may be necessary. The magistrates of the burgh hold courts of record, also a court every Monday for the settlement of claims of from five to forty shillings, and another on Tuesday and Thursdays for claims not above ten shillings. They also hold a criminal court every day at the police office and at the public offices. A maritime court held by the bailie of the river, with a legal assessor, is held every lawful day, as business occurs, in the burgh court hall. The jurisdiction of this court is extended over all matters of a maritime nature or admiralty, occurring from the Bridge of Glasgow to the Cloch Stone, near the Cloch Light-House, at the mouth of the Clyde. The bailies of Gorbals hold also civil and criminal courts within the bounds of their jurisdiction.


Chambers, Robert. The Gazetterr of Scotland. Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1838. Internet Archive online version digitized with funding from National Library of Scotland. Web. 30 September 2018.

Last modified 30 September 2018