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A borough is an administrative division in various English-speaking countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing walled town, although in practice, official use of the term varies widely.



A burg (at the time spelled using the insular G) in the Beowulf Beowulf - burg.jpg
A burg (at the time spelled using the insular G) in the Beowulf

In the Middle Ages, boroughs were settlements in England that were granted some self-government; burghs were the Scottish equivalent. In medieval England, boroughs were also entitled to elect members of parliament. The use of the word borough probably derives from the burghal system of Alfred the Great. Alfred set up a system of defensive strong points (Burhs); in order to maintain these particular settlements, he granted them a degree of autonomy. After the Norman Conquest, when certain towns were granted self-governance, the concept of the burh/borough seems to have been reused to mean a self-governing settlement.

The concept of the borough has been used repeatedly (and often differently) throughout the world. Often, a borough is a single town with its own local government. However, in some cities it is a subdivision of the city (for example, New York City, London, and Montreal). In such cases, the borough will normally have either limited powers delegated to it by the city's local government, or no powers at all. In other places, such as the U.S. state of Alaska, borough designates a whole region; Alaska's largest borough, the North Slope Borough, is comparable in area to the entire United Kingdom, although its population is less than that of Swanage on England's south coast with around 9,600 inhabitants. In Australia, a borough was once a self-governing small town, but this designation has all but vanished, except for the only remaining borough in the country, which is the Borough of Queenscliffe.

Boroughs as administrative units are to be found in Ireland and the United Kingdom, more specifically in England and Northern Ireland. Boroughs also exist in the Canadian province of Quebec and formerly in Ontario, in some states of the United States, in Israel, formerly in New Zealand and only one left in Australia.


The word borough derives from the Old English word burg, burh, meaning a fortified settlement; the word appears as modern English bury, -brough, Scots burgh, [1] borg in Scandinavian languages, Burg in German.

A number of other European languages have cognate words that were borrowed from the Germanic languages during the Middle Ages, including brog in Irish, bwr or bwrc, meaning "wall, rampart" in Welsh, bourg in French, burg in Catalan (in Catalonia there is a town named Burg), borgo in Italian, burgo in Portuguese, Galician and Castilian (hence the castilian place-name Burgos, galician place-names O Burgo and Malburgo), the -bork of Lębork and Malbork in Polish and the -bor of Maribor in Slovenian.

The 'burg' element, which means "castle" or "fortress", is often confused with 'berg' meaning "hill" or "mountain" (c.f. iceberg, inselberg). Hence the 'berg' element in Bergen or Heidelberg relates to a hill, rather than a fort. In some cases, the 'berg' element in place names has converged towards burg/borough; for instance Farnborough, from fernaberga (fern-hill).


In many parts of England, "borough" is pronounced /ˈbʌrə/ as an independent word, and as /bərə/ when a suffix of a place-name. As a suffix, it is sometimes spelled "-brough".

In the United States, "borough" is pronounced /ˈbʌr/ ; as a suffix, it is often spelled "-boro". When appearing as the suffix "-burg(h)" in place-names, it is pronounced /bɜːrɡ/ .



In Australia, the term "borough" is an occasionally used term for a local government area. Currently there is only one borough in Australia, the Borough of Queenscliffe in Victoria, although there have been more in the past. However, in some cases it can be integrated into the council's name instead of used as an official title, such as the Kingborough Council in Tasmania.


In Quebec, the term borough is generally used as the English translation of arrondissement , referring to an administrative division of a municipality, or a district. Eight municipalities are divided into boroughs: See List of boroughs in Quebec.

In Ontario, it was previously used to denote suburban municipalities in Metropolitan Toronto, including Scarborough, York, North York and Etobicoke prior to their conversions to cities. The Borough of East York was the last Toronto municipality to hold this status, relinquishing it upon becoming part of the City of Toronto government on January 1, 1998.


The Colombian Municipalities are subdivided into boroughs (English translation of the Spanish term localidades) with a local executive and an administrative board for local government. These boroughs are divided in neighborhoods.

Also, the principal cities had localidades with the same features as the European or American cities, including Soacha in Bogotá, Bello, La Estrella, Sabaneta, Envigado and Itagüí on Medellín.


There are four borough districts designated by the Local Government Reform Act 2014: Clonmel, Drogheda, Sligo, and Wexford. A local boundary review reporting in 2018 proposed granting borough status to any district containing a census town with a population over 30,000; this would have included the towns of Dundalk, Bray, and Navan. [2] This would have required an amendment to the 2014 Act, promised for 2019 by minister John Paul Phelan. [3]

Historically, there were 117 parliamentary boroughs in the Irish House of Commons, of which 80 were disfranchised by the Acts of Union 1800. All but 11 municipal boroughs were abolished under the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840. Under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, six of these became county boroughs: Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Derry, Limerick and Waterford. From 1921, Belfast and Derry were part of Northern Ireland and stayed within the United Kingdom on the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Galway was a borough from 1937 until upgraded to a county borough in 1985. [4] [5] The county boroughs in the Republic of Ireland were redesignated as "cities" under the Local Government Act 2001.

Dún Laoghaire was a borough from 1930 until merged into Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown county in 1994. [6] [7]

There were five borough councils in place at the time of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 which abolished all second-tier local government units of borough and town councils. Each local government authority outside of Dublin, Cork City and Galway City was divided into areas termed municipal districts. In four of the areas which had previously been contained borough councils, as listed above, these were instead termed Borough Districts. Kilkenny had previously had a borough council, but its district was to be called the Municipal District of Kilkenny City, in recognition of its historic city status. [8]


Under Israeli law, inherited from British Mandate municipal law, the possibility of creating a municipal borough exists. However, no borough was actually created under law until 2005–2006, when Neve Monosson and Maccabim-Re'ut, both communal settlements (Heb: yishuv kehilati) founded in 1953 and 1984, respectively, were declared to be autonomous municipal boroughs (Heb: vaad rova ironi), within their mergers with the towns of Yehud and Modi'in. Similar structures have been created under different types of legal status over the years in Israel, notably Kiryat Haim in Haifa, Jaffa in Tel Aviv-Yafo and Ramot and Gilo in Jerusalem. However, Neve Monosson is the first example of a full municipal borough actually declared under law by the Minister of the Interior, under a model subsequently adopted in Maccabim-Re'ut as well.

It is the declared intention of the Interior Ministry to use the borough mechanism in order to facilitate municipal mergers in Israel, after a 2003 wide-reaching merger plan, which, in general, ignored the sensitivities of the communal settlements, and largely failed.


In Mexico as translations from English to Spanish applied to Mexico City, the word borough has resulted in a delegación (delegation), referring to the 16 administrative areas within the Mexico City, now called Alcaldías.


In the Netherlands, the municipalities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam were divided into administrative boroughs, or deelgemeenten, which had their own borough council and a borough mayor. Other large cities are usually divided into districts, or stadsdelen, for census purposes. The deelgemeenten were abolished in 2014.

New Zealand

New Zealand formerly used the term borough to designate self-governing towns of more than 1,000 people, although 19th century census records show many boroughs with populations as low as 200. [9] A borough of more than 20,000 people could become a city by proclamation. Boroughs and cities were collectively known as municipalities, and were enclaves separate from their surrounding counties. Boroughs proliferated in the suburban areas of the larger cities: By the 1980s there were 19 boroughs and three cities in the area that is now the City of Auckland.

In the 1980s, some boroughs and cities began to be merged with their surrounding counties to form districts with a mixed urban and rural population. A nationwide reform of local government in 1989 completed the process. Counties and boroughs were abolished and all boundaries were redrawn. Under the new system, most territorial authorities cover both urban and rural land. The more populated councils are classified as cities, and the more rural councils are classified as districts. Only Kawerau District, an enclave within Whakatāne District, continues to follow the tradition of a small town council that does not include surrounding rural area.

Trinidad and Tobago

In Trinidad and Tobago, a Borough is a unit of Local Government. There are 5 boroughs in The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago:

United Kingdom

England and Wales

Ancient and municipal boroughs

During the medieval period many towns were granted self-governance by the Crown, at which point they became referred to as boroughs. The formal status of borough came to be conferred by Royal Charter. These boroughs were generally governed by a self-selecting corporation (i.e., when a member died or resigned his replacement would be by co-option). Sometimes boroughs were governed by bailiffs.

Debates on the Reform Bill (eventually the Reform Act 1832) lamented the diversity of polity of such town corporations, and a Royal Commission was set up to investigate this. This resulted in a regularisation of municipal government by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. 178 of the ancient boroughs were re-formed as municipal boroughs, with all municipal corporations to be elected according to a standard franchise based on property ownership. The unreformed boroughs lapsed in borough status, or were reformed (or abolished) later. Several new municipal boroughs were formed in the new industrial cities after the bill enacted, per its provisions.

As part of a large-scale reform of local government in England and Wales in 1974, municipal boroughs were finally abolished (having become increasingly irrelevant). However, the civic traditions of many were continued by the grant of a charter to their successor district councils. As to smallest boroughs, a town council was formed for an alike zone, while charter trustees were formed for a few others. A successor body is allowed to use the regalia of the old corporation, and appoint ceremonial office holders such as sword and mace bearers as provided in their original charters. The council, or trustees, may apply for an Order in Council or Royal Licence to use the coat of arms.

Parliamentary boroughs

From 1265, two burgesses from each borough were summoned to the Parliament of England, alongside two knights from each county. Thus parliamentary constituencies were derived from the ancient boroughs. Representation in the House of Commons was decided by the House itself, which resulted in boroughs being established in some small settlements for the purposes of parliamentary representation, despite their possessing no actual corporation.

After the 1832 Reform Act, which disenfranchised many of the rotten boroughs (boroughs that had declined in importance, had only a small population, and had only a handful of eligible voters), parliamentary constituencies began to diverge from the ancient boroughs. While many ancient boroughs remained as municipal boroughs, they were disenfranchised by the Reform Act.

County boroughs

The Local Government Act 1888 established a new sort of borough – the county borough. These were designed to be 'counties-to-themselves'; administrative divisions to sit alongside the new administrative counties. They allowed urban areas to be administered separately from the more rural areas. They, therefore, often contained pre-existing municipal boroughs, which thereafter became part of the second tier of local government, below the administrative counties and county boroughs.

The county boroughs were, like the municipal boroughs, abolished in 1974, being reabsorbed into their parent counties for administrative purposes.

Metropolitan boroughs

In 1899, as part of a reform of local government in the County of London, the various parishes in London were reorganised as new entities, the 'metropolitan boroughs'. These were reorganised further when Greater London was formed out of Middlesex, parts of Surrey, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire and the County of London in 1965. These council areas are now referred to as "London boroughs" rather than "metropolitan boroughs".

When the new metropolitan counties (Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, and West Yorkshire) were created in 1974, their sub-divisions also became metropolitan boroughs in many, but not all, cases; in many cases these metropolitan boroughs recapitulated abolished county boroughs (for example, Stockport). The metropolitan boroughs possessed slightly more autonomy from the metropolitan county councils than the shire county districts did from their county councils.

With the abolition of the metropolitan county councils in 1986, these metropolitan boroughs became independent, and continue to be so at present.

Other current uses

Elsewhere in England a number of districts and unitary authority areas are called "borough". Until 1974, this was a status that denoted towns with a certain type of local government (a municipal corporation, or a self-governing body). Since 1974, it has been a purely ceremonial style granted by royal charter to districts which may consist of a single town or may include a number of towns or rural areas. Borough status entitles the council chairman to bear the title of mayor. Districts may apply to the British Crown for the grant of borough status upon advice of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, local government was reorganised in 1973. Under the legislation that created the 26 districts of Northern Ireland, a district council whose area included an existing municipal borough could resolve to adopt the charter of the old municipality and thus continue to enjoy borough status. Districts that do not contain a former borough can apply for a charter in a similar manner to English districts.


United States

In the United States, a borough is a unit of local government or other administrative division below the level of the state. The term is currently used in seven states.

The following states use, or have used, the word with the following meanings:

See also

Related Research Articles

A county is a geographic region of a country used for administrative or other purposes in some nations. The term is derived from the Old French comté denoting a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. Literal equivalents in other languages, derived from the equivalent of "count", are now seldom used officially, including comté, contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, and zhupa in Slavic languages; terms equivalent to 'commune' or 'community' are now often instead used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Town</span> Type of human settlement

A town is a type of a human settlement. Towns are generally larger than villages and smaller than cities, though the criteria to distinguish between them vary considerably in different parts of the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">City status in the United Kingdom</span> Status granted by royal charter

City status in the United Kingdom is granted by the monarch of the United Kingdom to specific centres of population, which might or might not meet the generally accepted definition of cities. As of 22 November 2022, there are 76 cities in the United Kingdom—55 in England, seven in Wales, eight in Scotland, and six in Northern Ireland. Although it carries no special rights, the status of city can be a marker of prestige and confer local pride.

In many countries, a mayor is the highest-ranking official in a municipal government such as that of a city or a town. Worldwide, there is a wide variance in local laws and customs regarding the powers and responsibilities of a mayor as well as the means by which a mayor is elected or otherwise mandated. Depending on the system chosen, a mayor may be the chief executive officer of the municipal government, may simply chair a multi-member governing body with little or no independent power, or may play a solely ceremonial role. A mayor's duties and responsibilities may be to appoint and oversee municipal managers and employees, provide basic governmental services to constituents, and execute the laws and ordinances passed by a municipal governing body. Options for selection of a mayor include direct election by the public, or selection by an elected governing council or board.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan borough</span> Type of local government district in England

A metropolitan borough is a type of local government district in England. Created in 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972, metropolitan boroughs are defined in English law as metropolitan districts within metropolitan counties. All of the metropolitan districts have been granted or regranted royal charters giving them borough status. Metropolitan boroughs have been effectively unitary authority areas since the abolition of metropolitan county councils by the Local Government Act 1985. Metropolitan boroughs pool much of their authority in joint boards and other arrangements that cover whole metropolitan counties, such as city regions or combined authorities, with most of the latter having a metro mayor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County borough</span> Borough or city independent of county council control

County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control, similar to the unitary authorities created since the 1990s. An equivalent term used in Scotland was a county of city. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland they remain in existence but have been renamed cities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2001. The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 re-introduced the term for certain "principal areas" in Wales. Scotland did not have county boroughs but instead had counties of cities. These were abolished on 16 May 1975. All four Scottish cities of the time—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow—were included in this category. There was an additional category of large burgh in the Scottish system, which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burgh</span> Former autonomous corporate entity in Scotland and Northern England

A burgh is an autonomous municipal corporation in Scotland, usually a city, town, or toun in Scots. This type of administrative division existed from the 12th century, when King David I created the first royal burghs. Burgh status was broadly analogous to borough status, found in the rest of the United Kingdom. Following local government reorganisation in 1975, the title of "royal burgh" remains in use in many towns, but now has little more than ceremonial value.

A town council, city council or municipal council is a form of local government for small municipalities.

A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Municipal borough</span> Former type of British and Irish local government

A municipal borough was a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1836 and 1974, in Northern Ireland from 1840 to 1973 and in the Republic of Ireland from 1840 to 2002. Broadly similar structures existed in Scotland from 1833 to 1975 with the reform of royal burghs and creation of police burghs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local government in the Republic of Ireland</span> Tier of administration in Ireland

The functions of local government in the Republic of Ireland are mostly exercised by thirty-one local authorities, termed County, City, or City and County Councils. The principal decision-making body in each of the thirty-one local authorities is composed of the members of the council, elected by universal franchise in local elections every five years from multi-seat local electoral areas using the single transferable vote. Many of the authorities' statutory functions are, however, the responsibility of ministerially appointed career officials termed Chief executives. The competencies of the city and county councils include planning, transport infrastructure, sanitary services, public safety and the provision of public libraries. Each local authority sends representatives to one of three Regional Assemblies.

A municipal corporation is the legal term for a local governing body, including cities, counties, towns, townships, charter townships, villages, and boroughs. The term can also be used to describe municipally owned corporations.

A municipal council is the legislative body of a municipality or local government area. Depending on the location and classification of the municipality it may be known as a city council, town council, town board, community council, rural council, village council, or board of aldermen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County Borough of Leeds</span> Administrative division of Yorkshire, England until 1974

The County Borough of Leeds, and its predecessor, the Municipal Borough of Leeds, was a local government district in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, from 1835 to 1974. Its origin was the ancient borough of Leeds, which was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1889, when West Riding County Council was formed, Leeds became a county borough outside the administrative county of the West Riding; and in 1893 the borough gained city status. The borough was extended a number of times, expanding from 21,593 acres (8,738 ha) in 1911 to 40,612 acres (16,435 ha) in 1961; adding in stages the former area of Roundhay, Seacroft, Shadwell and Middleton parishes and gaining other parts of adjacent districts. In 1971 Leeds was the fifth largest county borough by population in England. The county borough was abolished in 1974 and replaced with the larger City of Leeds, a metropolitan district of West Yorkshire.

Borough status is granted by royal charter to local government districts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The status is purely honorary, and does not give any additional powers to the council or inhabitants of the district. In Scotland, similarly chartered communities were known as royal burghs, although the status is no longer granted.

A municipal district is an administrative entity comprising a clearly-defined territory and its population. It can refer to a city, a town, a village, a small grouping of them, or a rural area.

The history of local government in England is one of gradual change and evolution since the Middle Ages. England has never possessed a formal written constitution, with the result that modern administration is based on precedent, and is derived from administrative powers granted to older systems, such as that of the shires.

A local government area (LGA) is an administrative division of a country that a local government is responsible for. The size of an LGA varies by country but it is generally a subdivision of a state, province, division, or territory.

In Ireland, the term city has somewhat differing meanings in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.



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