Municipal borough

Last updated

Municipal borough
England Administrative 1931.jpg
Map of municipal boroughs in 1931 (named in boldface text), alongside administrative counties, county boroughs, urban districts, rural districts
CategoryLocal government district
Location England and Wales, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland
Found in Administrative county
Created by Municipal Corporations Act 1835 (England and Wales)
Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840 (Ireland)
  • 1835
Abolished by
  • 1974 (England and Wales)
  • 1973 (Northern Ireland)
  • 2002 (Republic of Ireland)
Possible types
  • County borough
  • Non-county borough
Possible status
  • City
  • Royal borough
  • Municipal corporation

A municipal borough was a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1835 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.


England and Wales

Municipal Corporations Act 1835

Boroughs had existed in England and Wales since mediaeval times. By the late Middle Ages they had come under royal control, with corporations established by royal charter. These corporations were not popularly elected: characteristically they were self-selecting oligarchies, were nominated by tradesmen's guilds or were under the control of the lord of the manor. A Royal Commission was appointed in 1833 to investigate the various borough corporations in England and Wales. In all 263 towns were found to have some form of corporation created by charter or in existence by prescription. The majority had self-elected common councils, whose members served for life. Where there was an election, the incumbent members of the corporation often effectively nominated the electorate. Eleven boroughs were manorial court leets. [1] Following the report of the royal commission, legislation was introduced to reform borough corporations.

The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 provided for a reformed form of town government, designated a municipal borough. The Act introduced a uniform system of town government in municipal boroughs, with an elected town council, consisting of a mayor, aldermen and councillors to oversee many local affairs. The legislation required all municipal corporations to be elected according to a standard franchise, based on property ownership. The Act reformed 178 boroughs. At the same time, a procedure was established whereby the inhabitant householders of a town could petition the Crown via the privy council to grant a charter of incorporation, constituting the area a municipal borough. [2] The attempts to incorporate large industrial towns such as Birmingham, Bolton, Manchester and Sheffield by Whig and Radical "incorporationists" were bitterly contested by Tory "anti-incorporationists". [3] The Tory objections to the legality of the charters led to them boycotting elections to the new boroughs until the enactment of the Borough Charters Confirmation Act 1842. [4]

A number of further acts of parliament[ which? ] amended the 1835 legislation. All of these were repealed and replaced by the Municipal Corporations Act 1882. The 1882 Act and the consolidating Local Government Act 1933 provided the statutory basis for municipal boroughs up to their abolition. An important change in the 1933 legislation removed the right to petition for incorporation from inhabitant householders. In future, petitions could only be made by existing urban or rural district councils. [5]

The boroughs unreformed by the Act were not immediately abolished. Several of them subsequently sought new charters as municipal boroughs; those that did not were finally abolished in 1887 by the Municipal Corporations Act 1886. Only the City of London Corporation survived as a local authority in an unreformed state; the City undertook a major reform of its democratic structure in 2005.

In 1873 the Association of Municipal Corporations was formed to represent the interests of the boroughs collectively; its membership included both county and non-county boroughs. The AMC was later to be a strong advocate for expanding county boroughs and unitary local government, and it was at the annual conference of the AMC in 1965 that Richard Crossman called for a reform of all local government. This speech eventually led to the Redcliffe-Maud Report recommending large unitary councils for all England. [6]

Corporation and council

Each municipal borough possessed a corporation uniformly designated as the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the town. The only exception was where the borough enjoyed city status; in this case "burgesses" became "citizens". In a handful of cities the chief magistrate was granted the further dignity of lord mayor.

The corporation was a body corporate with perpetual succession, and included all registered electors or "burgesses" of the borough. However, the actual administration was carried out by a town council, which was in effect a committee representative of the community at large. All those eligible to vote were entered in the "burgess roll", which was compiled by the town clerk annually. [7]

Town councils

The town council of each municipal borough consisted of a mayor, aldermen, and councillors. The councillors were directly elected by the burgesses for a three-year term, with one-third of their membership retiring each year. Boroughs with a population of more than 6,000 were divided into wards with separate elections held in each ward annually. [8] One-quarter of the council were aldermen, who were elected by the council for a six-year term. Half of the aldermen were elected every third year at the council's annual meeting. It was originally envisaged that the council would choose persons from outside of the municipal body. In practice, however, the aldermanic benches were almost exclusively filled by the promotion of long-serving councillors. [7] The mayor of the borough was elected for a one-year term, although he was eligible for re-election indefinitely. Under the original legislation the mayor was required to be a councillor or alderman. The Municipal Corporations Act 1882 empowered the council to elect any suitably qualified inhabitant of the borough as mayor. However, the mayoralty continued to be almost universally conferred on a senior alderman or councillor. [7]

Municipal elections were originally held on 1 November, with the mayoral election and filling of aldermanic vacancies on 9 November. Elections were cancelled during the First and Second World Wars, and the November 1948 elections were postponed until May 1949. From that date, municipal elections were held on the second Thursday of May. [9] In view of the forthcoming local government reorganisation, the 1972 elections were rescheduled to 4 May, with no elections in 1973 and all sitting councillors and aldermen holding their seats until midnight on 31 March 1974. [10]

County and non-county boroughs

In 1889, county councils were created across England and Wales under the Local Government Act 1888. Boroughs were divided into two sorts, with some becoming county boroughs which were entirely self-governing and independent from county council administration.

The non-county boroughs had more limited powers of self-government, and shared power with county councils. In 1894, towns which had not been incorporated as boroughs became urban districts with similar powers to municipal boroughs.

The title of "borough" was considered to be more dignified than "urban district", and so many larger urban districts petitioned to be granted the status of a municipal borough, and many were granted this right. Borough status did not substantially increase local government powers, although municipal boroughs above a certain size had the right to run primary education.


Under the Local Government Act 1958, small municipal boroughs could be absorbed by surrounding rural districts to become rural boroughs, with the powers of a parish council. Seven small boroughs in Cornwall, Devon and Shropshire underwent this process.

The remaining municipal boroughs, of which there were over 200, were abolished on 1 April 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972. In England, they were replaced by metropolitan or non-metropolitan districts and in Wales by districts.

In most cases, the civic privileges and coat of arms of the abolished boroughs were inherited by one of the new local authorities. District councils were permitted to apply for a charter to receive borough status, while small municipal boroughs became successor parishes with town councils headed by a town mayor. In a few cases charter trustees, a special committee of district councillors, were formed to perpetuate the mayoralty of a town or city.


The Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840 followed the example of the legislation in England and Wales. Unlike the 1835 Act, the Irish Act abolished nearly all of the country's boroughs, reforming just 10. Inhabitants of the larger of the abolished boroughs or of any town with a population of 3,000 could petition the crown for incorporation under the Act. In the event, only one additional borough was created when Wexford received a charter of incorporation in 1846. [11] The corporation and town council were identical in their constitution to the English boroughs, and each borough was divided into wards with three, six or nine councillors per ward and one alderman for every three councillors. [12]

The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 designated the six largest municipalities (Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Derry and Waterford) as county boroughs. The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919 introduced a system of proportional representation into municipal elections. Wards were replaced by electoral areas, and the entire council was to be elected triennially. Separate elections of aldermen and councillors were ended, with all members of the council elected by popular vote. One-quarter of the elected members were entitled to the title of "alderman", which was used to designate the first candidates elected in each area. The remaining successful candidates being "councillors". [13]

Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Ireland was partitioned in 1921, between Northern Ireland, which would remain in the United Kingdom, and the remainder, which left the United Kingdom in 1922 as the Irish Free State.

Northern Ireland

On establishment, Northern Ireland contained the county boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry, with no municipal boroughs. The Parliament of Northern Ireland abolished proportional representation in local government elections in 1922, and amended the 1840 Act in 1926, allowing urban districts to petition the Governor for a charter of incorporation. [14] [15] Accordingly, by 1972 the number of boroughs had increased to 12 in number.

The system of local government was reorganised in 1973, with 26 local government districts replacing all county and municipal boroughs as well as urban and rural districts. The city or borough status conferred by the municipal charters passed to the new district councils. [16]

Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland

Nine boroughs (four county boroughs and five municipal boroughs) were within the territory of the Irish Free State in 1922. Two new boroughs were created by statute. In 1930, the borough of Dún Laoghaire was created by the amalgamation of the four urban districts of Blackrock, Dalkey, Kingstown, and Killiney and Ballybrack in County Dublin. [17] This borough was later abolished in 1994. [18] In 1937 the town of Galway was reconstituted as a municipal borough. [19] It became a county borough in 1986. [20] [21]

The Local Government Act 2001 abolished municipal boroughs. County boroughs were replaced by statutory "cities", while the title of "borough" was retained for the other towns holding the status. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The term may be titular, denoting a high-ranking member of a borough or county council, a council member chosen by the elected members themselves rather than by popular vote, or a council member elected by voters.

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">Galway City Council</span> Local authority for Galway City, Ireland

Galway City Council is the local authority in the city of Galway, Ireland. As a city council, it is governed by the Local Government Act 2001. The council is responsible for housing and community, roads and transportation, urban planning and development, amenity and culture, and environment. The council has 18 elected members. Elections are held every five years and are by single transferable vote. The head of the council has the title of mayor. The city administration is headed by a Chief Executive, Patricia Philbin. The council meets at City Hall, College Road, Galway.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Municipal Corporations Act 1835</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Municipal Corporations Act 1835, sometimes known as the Municipal Reform Act, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in the incorporated boroughs of England and Wales. The legislation was part of the reform programme of the Whigs and followed the Reform Act 1832, which had abolished most of the rotten boroughs for parliamentary purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Municipal Borough of Finchley</span>

Finchley, which is now in north London, was a local government district in Middlesex, England, from 1878 to 1965. Finchley Local Board first met in 1878. It became Finchley Urban District Council in 1895 and the Municipal Borough of Finchley in 1933. In 1965 Middlesex was abolished and Finchley became part of the London Borough of Barnet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leicester City Council</span> Unitary authority responsible for local government in the city of Leicester, England

Leicester City Council is a unitary authority responsible for local government in the city of Leicester, England. It consists of 54 councillors, representing 22 wards in the city, overseen by a directly elected mayor. It is currently controlled by the Labour Party and has been led by mayor Sir Peter Soulsby since 2011. The council also appoints a ceremonial Lord Mayor who chairs council meetings; the directly elected mayor is termed the City Mayor to distinguish the post from the Lord Mayor.

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.

In Ireland, a town council was the second tier of local government from 2002 to 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local Government Act 2001</span> Legislation restructuring local government in Ireland

The Local Government Act 2001 was enacted by the Oireachtas on 21 July 2001 to reform local government in the Republic of Ireland. Most of the provisions of the Act came into operation on 1 January 2002. The act was a restatement and amendment of previous legislation, which was centred on the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. The 2001 act remains in force, although significantly amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

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">London Government Act 1899</span> United Kingdom legislation

The London Government Act 1899 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed the administration of the capital. The Act divided the County of London into 28 metropolitan boroughs, replacing the 41 parish vestries and District Boards of Works administering the area. The legislation also transferred a few powers from the London County Council to the boroughs, and removed a number of boundary anomalies. The first elections to the new boroughs were held on 1 November 1900.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1972 was an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland that constituted district councils to administer the twenty-six local government districts created by the Local Government (Boundaries) Act 1971, and abolished the existing local authorities in Northern Ireland.

The Royal Commission on the Amalgamation of the City and County of London was a royal commission which considered the means for amalgamating the ancient City of London with the County of London, which had been created in 1889. The commission reported in 1894. The government headed by Lord Rosebery accepted the recommendations of the commission, but when a Conservative government under Lord Salisbury came to power in 1895 the reforms were almost entirely abandoned.

The Royal Commission on the Corporation of the City of London was a Royal Commission, established in 1853, which considered the local government arrangements of the City of London and the surrounding metropolitan area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County Borough of Carlisle</span>

Carlisle was, from 1835 to 1974, a local government district in the northwest of England, coterminate with Carlisle. In 1835, following the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, Carlisle was constituted a municipal borough of Cumberland, but was promoted to county borough status in 1914, within its boundaries taking over the functions of Cumberland County Council. The district was abolished on 31 March 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local Government Reform Act 2014</span> Law amending the structures of local government in Ireland

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 is an act of the Oireachtas which provided for a major restructuring of local government in Ireland with effect from the 2014 local elections. It merged some first-tier county and city councils, abolished all second-tier town and borough councils, and created a new second tier of municipal districts covering rural as well as urban areas. It also provided for a plebiscite on whether to create a directly elected executive Mayor of the Dublin Metropolitan Area although this provision was not activated. The act was introduced as a bill on 15 October 2013 by Phil Hogan, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and signed into law on 27 January 2014 by President Michael D. Higgins. Most of its provisions came into force on 1 June 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Limerick City and County Council</span> Local government authority for Limerick city and county in Ireland

Limerick City and County Council is the authority responsible for local government in County Limerick in Ireland. It came into operation on 1 June 2014 after the 2014 local elections. It was formed by the merger of Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council under the provisions of the Local Government Reform Act 2014. As a city and county council, it is governed by the Local Government Act 2001. The council is responsible for housing and community, roads and transportation, urban planning and development, amenity and culture, and environment. The council has 40 elected members. Elections are held every five years and are by single transferable vote. The head of the council has the title of Mayor. The city and county administration is headed by a Chief Executive, Pat Daly. The administrative centre is City Hall, Limerick, with other civic offices at Dooradoyle. Following a plebiscite in 2019, Limerick is due to become the first local authority in Ireland with a directly elected mayor.

Local government in Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, is currently administered through the local authorities of four local government areas. The historical development of these councils dates back to medieval times.


  1. Fletcher, Joseph (July 1842). "Statistics of the Municipal Institutions of the English Towns". Journal of the Statistical Society of London. 5 (2): 97–168. doi:10.2307/2980708. JSTOR   2980708.
  2. Municipal Corporations Act 1835 (C.76), S. 141
  3. Edsall, Nicholas C. (March 1973). "Varieties of Radicalism: Attwood, Cobden and the Local Politics of Municipal Incorporation". The Historical Journal. 16 (1): 93–107. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00003721. S2CID   154140874.
  4. 1842 C.111
  5. Local Government Act 1933 (C. 51), S.129
  6. Wood, Bruce (1976). The Process of Local Government Reform 1966–74. George Allen & Unwin. p. 19.
  7. 1 2 3 Shaw, Albert (June 1889). "Municipal Government in Great Britain". Political Science Quarterly . 4 (2): 197–229. doi:10.2307/2139337. JSTOR   2139337.
  8. Finlayson, G. B. A. M. (October 1966). "The Politics of Municipal Reform, 1835". The English Historical Review . 81 (321): 673–692. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXXXI.CCCXXI.673. JSTOR   562019.
  9. "The Municipal Elections". The Times . 13 May 1949. p. 3.
  10. The Times, 5 May 1972
  11. "History of Borough Council". Wexford Borough Council. Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
  12. Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840, C. 108
  13. Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919, C. 19
  14. "Review of Legislation 1922". Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law. Third Series. 6 (3). 1924.
  15. Municipal Corporations Act (Northern Ireland) 1926
  16. Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972 (N.I. 1972 c.9)
  17. Local Government (Dublin) Act 1930 , s. 3 ( No. 27 of 1930, s. 3 ). Enacted on 17 July 1930. Act of the Oireachtas .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 2008-07-14.
  18. Local Government (Dublin) Act 1993 , s. 9 ( No. 31 of 1993, s. 9 ). Enacted on 21 December 1993. Act of the Oireachtas .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 2016-08-05.
  19. Local Government (Galway) Act 1937, s. 4: Formation of the Borough of Galway ( No. 3P of 1937, s. 4 ). Enacted on 10 June 1937. Act of the Oireachtas .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 24 June 2021.
  20. Local Government (Reorganisation) Act 1985, s. 5: Establishment of Borough of Galway as County Borough ( No. 7 of 1985, s. 5 ). Enacted on 3 April 1985. Act of the Oireachtas .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 24 June 2021.
  21. Local Government (Reorganisation) Act 1985 (County Borough of Galway) (Appointed Day) Order 1985 ( S.I. No. 425 of 1985 ). Signed on 18 December 1985. Statutory Instrument of the Government of Ireland .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 24 June 2021.
  22. Local Government Act 2001 , s. 10: Local government areas ( No. 37 of 2001, s. 10 ). Enacted on 21 July 2001. Act of the Oireachtas .Retrieved from Irish Statute Book on 4 April 2023.