Official Records

Burgh Records (1205-1975)

Burghs were essentially urban settlements with trading privileges and varying powers to regulate the affairs of the town.

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.

There were different types of burghs and their functions and responsibilities changed over time.

Medieval Burghs

In medieval times burghs allowed a community of merchants and craftsmen to live and work outside the feudal system. In return each burgh paid large sums of money to its creator (the crown, an abbot, a bishop, or a secular baron). Burghs were first created in Scotland in the twelfth century. Some were ancient towns already (such as Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen). Others were entirely new creations, often in the shadow of a royal castle such as Ayr.  By 1707 three types of burgh existed:

  • royal burghs
  • burghs of regality
  • burghs of barony

Royal Burghs

Royal burghs were created by royal charter and the majority were sea ports. Consequently the burgh charter was an important document as it created the burgh or confirmed the rights of the burgh as laid down (perhaps verbally) by a previous monarch. 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. After 1707 no further royal burghs were created and their number remained at 70.

Burghs of Regality and Burghs of Barony (see also Parliamentary and Police Burghs)

Burghs of regality and barony were also created by royal charter.  The crown granted burghs of regality to a lord of regality – a leading Scottish noble who held very large estates and had wide powers in criminal and civil law.

Burghs of barony were granted to a tenant-in-chief, a landowner who held his estates directly from the crown. This landowner had authority from the crown to administer justice and to hold barony courts dealing with crimes and matters of good neighbourhood until 1747, and therafter, only matters of good neighbourhood. Burghs of barony were created by royal charter until 1846.

Over 300 burghs of barony or regality were created between 1450 and 1707, but many did not survive for long, failing to develop into market towns.

Parliamentary and Police Burghs

By the nineteenth century there were calls for reform of the burghs. Many suffered from financial mismanagement and corruption, and larger towns faced problems coping with industrial pollution, sewerage disposal and water supply. In 1800 Glasgow obtained a local act of parliament to set up a system of policing. A body of elected police commissioners oversaw a police force, and were also concerned with the maintenance of paving, lighting and street cleansing. Other Scottish burghs obtained similar local acts in the following years. Further legislation in 1832 and 1833 created Parliamentary Burghs with elected councils by converting royal burghs and many burghs of barony and regality. This led to an overlap or administration between the existing town councils and the new police commissioners.

Powers regarding police and public health were developed and extended under the Police of Towns (Scotland) Act 1850 and the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act 1862. The result was the creation of over 100 ‘police burghs’.

In 1892 the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act ended the overlap between burgh councils and police commissioners by restricting power to one or the other. Public health powers were also extended and only burghs with a population of 7000 or more could retain their police force. New police forces could only be created where the population was greater than 20,000. In towns with smaller populations the county council became responsible for the police force.
Police Commissioners were abolished by the Town Councils (Scotland) Act 1900 in favour of the older terms of ‘provost, bailies and councillors.

Twentieth century Burghs

After the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929 burghs became either large burghs or small burghs, according to their population. Burghs were abolished in 1975 and replaced by district councils, and then, in 1996 by the current local authorities.

Commissioners of Supply (1705-1929)

Commissioners of Supply were first established in Scotland in 1667 to collect the cess, or national land tax, on a county basis. The Commissioners were generally substantial landowners of the county, defined after the Union as those possessing property, superiority of liferent of lands with a minimum annual value of £100 Scots. Over time their duties expanded beyond collection of taxes, although this element expanded to include window and horse taxes. Along with the justices of the peace they were also responsible for county roads, bridges and ferries.

The Commissioners became an important institution of local government and provided a voice for the views and concerns of landowners. In some counties the Commissioners were involved with police and vagrancy matters, and taxes could be levied for prisons, asylums and county buildings. In 1890 the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1889 transferred almost all of their functions to the new county councils with one important exception.

Commissioners of Supply formed part of the membership of standing joint committees, which were the police authorities in counties until 1930 and approved all capital works undertaken by county councils. Both Commissioners of Supply and standing joint committees were abolished in 1930 by the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, 19&20 Geo. V, c.25.

Their records consist mainly of minutes and cess rolls.

Ayr County Council (1890-1975)

Ayr County Council was established under the Local Government ( Scotland ) Act, 1889 which reformed and streamlined local government in Scotland .

The new County Council assumed the powers of the Commissioners of Supply, Parochial Boards, County Road Trustees, and the Justices of the Peace, which were administered by District Committees and Special District Committees.

The main responsibilities of the County Council included planning and roads, education, rating and assessment, health and welfare, water and lighting.  The surviving records comprise:

  • minutes
  • court books
  • accounts
  • electoral registers
  • valuation rolls
  • photographs
  • files and plans.

District Councils (1975-1996)

The Local Government ( Scotland ) Act, 1973 transferred most of the responsibilities of the Burghs to the new District Councils.

In Ayrshire four District Councils were created in 1975:

  • Kyle and Carrick
  • Cumnock and Doon Valley
  • Kilmarnock and Loudoun
  • Cunninghame

HM Customs and Excise

During 1707 the administration of Customs duties was standardised throughout the United Kingdom and the subsequent records provide an accessible source of tremendous potential for local and family historians. To get the best from the wealth of information contained within the records it is helpful to understand some of the history of customs and excise.

Until 1909, the Customs Board operated through outports which reported directly to Edinburgh or London, with further responsibility for subordinate creeks or ports. Ayrshire had four outports: Ardrossan, Ayr , Irvine and Troon.

Excise was administered locally by ‘collections’, which were divided into districts and divisions.  Local officers, in addition to their usual duties, frequently kept registers of sea fishing boats and shipping registers, often worked as Receivers of Wrecks, and performed duties on behalf of the Royal Navy. The records preserve much incidental information about the society of the period and those groups, such as sailors or fishermen, who were fleeting members of it.

After 1909 excise duties were administered by the Inland Revenue at which point the responsibility was transferred to the Board of Customs and Excise (previously known as the Board of Customs).

The Customs and Excise records held at Ayrshire Archives are arranged by customs outports, and for convenience, the equivalent excise districts are included, where possible, with the records of the corresponding outport.

Highway Authorities (1767-1883)

The Turnpike and Parish Road Trustees were an important body in county administration as they were responsible for highway construction and maintenance. Their records consist of minutes and accounts, providing valuable information on road improvement during this period.

Hospital Records

Although the majority of hospital records are with NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Ayrshire Archives holds archival records for:

  • Ravenspark Hospital (1858-1949)
  • Ailsa Hospital (1869-1971)

Health care was closely linked with poor relief and a number of hospitals started out as poor houses or asylums. Researchers may find it helpful to also look at poor relief records.

Parochial Boards & Parish Councils

Parochial Boards (1845-1894)
Parish Councils (1894-1929)

Parochial Boards and Parochial Councils were responsible for the provision of poor relief, cemetery administration, and civil registration. Parish records were inherited by the County Council and survive for most parishes in Ayrshire.

The records consist of board minutes, registers of applications for relief, inspectors’ letter books and accounts (1845-1929). There are also a number of records relating to Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse (1854-1930), Maybole Combination Poorhouse (1865-1910) and the Kyle Union Poorhouse (1860-1977) and include registers of inmates, minutes, letter books, plans and accounts.

Many of the records give details of applicants’ health, financial and family difficulties and are a rich source for family and social historians.

Please note: owing to the sensitive nature of the information some of the more recent records (those less than 100 years old) are not available for public inspection.

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