Dean of Guild plans

Dean of Guild plan - front elevation

Almost every local authority archive has a collection of Dean of Guild plans, often dating from around the 1890’s. Dean of Guild courts were responsible for enforcing burgh building regulations. They evolved from a court which heard complaints about a neighbour’s building and boundary disputes to one which vetted all proposed buildings. They were the forerunner of today’s Planning departments.

Dean of Guild courts originated in the medieval burghs of Scotland. The Guild were the merchants of the burgh. The Guild was created to safeguard the privileges of the merchants, who were the wealthiest citizens of any burgh. Their Dean was a powerful figure in local politics and he assumed the power of a magistrate. He came to preside over a court which regulated the infringement of trading rights, civil cases between merchants and regulated weights and measures. Their building regulation role began to develop in the 17th century. Initially, they were called in when neighbours disagreed about boundaries or raised an objection to the building itself. By 1850 the Court was largely confined to building regulation. Many Dean of Guild courts stagnated or disappeared. Lawyers and architects had begun to complain about the Dean not being qualified to judge the legal rights of proprietors not the standard of the building work. New legislation, the 1892 burgh Police (Scotland) Act specified the duties of the Court and the procedures it was to follow.

Dean of Guild plan

The Dean of Guild court required that plans were submitted to them for any new building, alterations or additions. They continued to exercise this function until their abolition in 1975.

A number of series of Dean of Guild plans suffered during this era. Those for the town of Arbroath have never come to light but there are excellent series for Carnoustie, Brechin, Monifieth and Montrose, available, but unlisted, in the Angus Archives collection in the Angus Archives. The example is from Carnoustie’s collection, which has a card index by street. It is of a villa designed by local architect James Bruce who worked from the early 20th century to the 1920’s.

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