Scottish Counties and Parishes:
their history and boundaries on maps

This guide provides information on local government units in Scotland, particularly parishes and counties, focusing on their boundaries and changes over time. Much of the development of these units in the last two centuries is tied up with the growth of local government administration, and the main changes in legislation affecting these units are presented in this context. Some of the most useful cartographic and non-cartographic sources of information are listed for further reference, with links to their availability online.

In this section

  1. Local government units and their histories
  2. Legislation affecting local government units in the 19th and 20th centuries
  3. Information sources

2. Legislation affecting parishes in the 19th and 20th centuries

2.1 New Parishes (Scotland) Act 1844

This Act legalised the erection of new parishes 'quoad sacra'. 60 new parishes were created by 1858 and 356 by 1887.

2.2 Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889

Described as "epoch-making" this Act aimed to establish a single authority in each county (County Councils) to take over the administrative powers and duties previously performed by several different bodies (such as the Commissioners of Supply, County Road Trustees, local authorities, and Justices of the Peace). These bodies were designed to be representative, rather than exercising authority by virtue of possession of certain lands and heritages, and were vested with new powers not previously exercised in counties. Boundary Commissioners for Scotland were charged with the tasks of forming electoral divisions, regulating boundaries of counties, and making boundaries of burghs and parishes coincide with those of counties.

2.3 Local Government (Scotland) Act 1894

This carried into effect the proposals which were envisaged during the passing of the 1889 Act, resulting in the alteration of many parish and county boundaries in Scotland. The Act is sometimes referred to as the "Peasants' Charter", in its attempt to revive parochial life in rural districts, and establish the parish council in the more populous rural parishes. At the county level, the most important effects were:

2.4 Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929

This brought about a wide-reaching local government reform, aiming to increase simplicity and efficiency of administration by unifying administrative and financial control of major services under a single authority in each area. The Commissioners of Supply, Standing Joint Committees, District Committees, Parish Councils, Education Authorities, District Boards of Control, and Distress Committees where all abolished, and local government was organised through the following bodies:

The old classification of burghs was replaced by two new classes (large burghs and small burghs), differentiated by the extent of their powers and the size of population over which they administered. The following burghs were united:

For further details see:

2.5 Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947

The main aim of the Act was to consolidate the various enactments relating to local government over the previous 120 years, clarifying the role, constitution, officers, and accounts of local government bodies. However, Part VI dealt specifically with name changes and boundary changes of jurisdictions, setting in place the administrative machinery for changing the names of areas, and for altering boundaries. In this latter context, provisions were made for altering the boundaries of burghs which fell into more than one county (such as Dumfries). The following name changes of counties were also officially sanctioned (regularising the existing situation):

For further details see:

2.6 Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1973

This entirely remodelled the whole range of local government in Scotland and simplified the system, abolishing the previous local government bodies and replacing them with 9 Regions, 53 Districts, and 3 Island Areas. Civil parishes were stripped of any last vestiges of local government authority, although their boundaries were often used for the formation of electoral division boundaries. The boundaries of the new local government units were operational from 16 May 1975.

The Scottish Office Consultation Paper The Structure of Local Government in Scotland (June 1991) , discusses the arguments for and against a transition to a unitary local government authority structure, and contains some useful information on the contemporary state of local government in Scotland, maps of regions and districts, and the population, area and population density of regions and districts in 1981.

For further details see:

2.7 Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1994

This abolished the previous two-tier region and district model on the mainland and replaced it by 29 unitary authorities; the three islands authorities remained. Although not affecting parishes, the new authority boundaries in some areas take the position of pre-1974 counties and parishes. The new authorities were elected in April 1995 and the boundaries of the new local government units were operational from April 1996.

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