Dean of Guild Court

In Scottish burghs during the period when Mackintosh was active as an architect, the Dean of Guild Court was the public authority to which anyone intending to build had to apply for permission.

The early origins of the Dean of Guild Court lie in the associations, or guilds, that arose to protect the rights and privileges of medieval traders and craftsmen. Their leaders, known as Deans, presided over courts composed of other guild members, and had legal jurisdiction over a range of disputes, including some relating to property and building. By the mid-19th century, most of their functions had been taken over by the growing machinery of local government. Glasgow was one of a small number of burghs where the ancient Dean of Guild Court continued to operate, and its powers were strengthened by the 1862 Glasgow Police Act, which decreed that anyone intending to build within the burgh had to apply for a warrant from the court. Elsewhere, a variety of different systems of building control had grown up by this date. To create a uniform system, the 1892 Burgh Police (Scotland) Act laid down rules for a new generation of Dean of Guild Courts with clearly defined powers. These standardised Dean of Guild Courts continued to be responsible for building control until their abolition in 1975. 1

The records of Dean of Guild Courts provide invaluable information about late 19th- and 20th-century building activity in Scottish towns. The Courts' minutes give the dates when cases were considered, and the names of property owners or their agents. Drawings submitted to the Courts have in many cases survived, although they are generally restricted in the amount of detail they show: the emphasis tends to be on materials, construction, drainage and sanitation, etc., and not on aesthetic matters, with which the Courts were not concerned. In the case of the Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, the Court's officers carried out regular site visits to inspect buildings under construction. The records of these inspections provide an extremely detailed account of progress, which was often remarkably rapid by comparison with the 21st century.

Dean of Guild Courts only existed in Scottish burghs. In rural areas, following legislation in 1897, building control became the responsibility of County Councils and remained so until 1975.


1: Rebecca M. Bailey, Scottish Architects' Papers: A Source Book, Edinburgh: The Rutland Press, 1996, pp. 171–3.