Registers of the Dean of Guild court, St Andrews, Fife

Scope and Content

The records of the court comprise: registers, minute books, indexes to applications, lists of cases and fee books. A unique number was allocated to each application. The registers record applications for planning permission and the submission of plans to the Court. They give date of submission, details of the property concerned and the proposed alterations, and the result of the consideration of the numbered application by the court.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dean of Guild courts have their origin in Scotland's medieval royal burghs. The monopoly of foreign trade and the right to buy and sell goods wholesale was reserved to merchants who organised themselves into merchant guilds to safeguard their privileges. An elected Dean of Guild sat at the head of this exclusive group of the wealthiest of the citizens of the burgh. The Dean also assumed the status of a magistrate with a legal jurisdiction over cases arising from trade. However, the lasting role of Dean of Guild courts in discharging supervisory powers over buildings only developed from the seventeenth century.

By the nineteenth century many of the Dean of Guild courts had dwindled in influence and the powers given to Police Commissioners encroached on their traditional areas of jurisdiction. There was a proliferation of authorities responsible for buildings and planning matters until the situation was rationalised under the 1892 Burgh Police (Scotland) Act. This specified the duties and procedure to be followed by all Dean of Guild Courts. There was no compulsion to have a building control authority until 1903. The Dean of Guild courts were abolished by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 on 16 May 1975 and their functions are now discharged by the building control department of district councils.

Any proposal to erect, alter or demolish a building within the burgh of St Andrews required the sanction of the Court. The only building work outwith its jurisdiction was that undertaken by the Crown, railway companies and Scottish Health board. Consent for building work was sought by a petition, (an application from 1964) accompanied by drawings detailing the nature of the proposal. The drawings were inspected to ensure that they met the regulations on stability, access to light, ventilation and sanitary arrangements of the new building. Petitions could be opposed and objections were sought.

Source: Ian Gray, A Guide to Dean of Guild Court Records, (Glasgow, 1994).


Court Registers, 1894-1975 (actually contain 1897-1968); Index book 1968-1975; Town planning applications, 1948-1975; Register of plans and petitions, 1960-1967; Register of applications, 1967-1975 and 1968-1975; Register of applications for advertisement and signs, 1949-1974; Register of minor warrants, 1957-1972 and 1966-1975; Minor warrants index book, 1973-1975; Loose papers, 1965-1975.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the building control department of North East Fife District Council on the sale of the old burgh chambers, Queens Gardens, St Andrews.


The plans are rolled. They were transferred to the library in their original storage tubes, which were numbered. At boxing it was found that many of the tubes were empty and some were missing. Therefore there are many gaps in the sequence listed in the Registers and the identification of an application in the register does not guarantee the presence of plans.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list is available in the Reading Room.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents, and also with consent of depositor.

Related Material

GB 227 msdep103/plans Drawings and plans submitted in application to Dean of Guild court, 1894-1975.GB 227 B65/15/1 Records of the burgh of St Andrews, Minutes of Dean of Guild Court, 1827-1865.

Geographical Names