A borough is a political division originally used in England.
The equivalent, burgh, was used in Scotland. Bury often ends towns' names in the South of England, but -borough more often in the Midlands. -Bury is more common in America's New England — but -burg in the American South and West. A variant spelling seen in many place names is Brough, normally pronounced 'bruh'.
Throughout England, Borough is pronounced 'burruh' or 'bruh', and burgh is pronounced 'bruh'; in Scotland borough and burgh are both pronounced 'burra'; in America, borough is pronounced 'burrow' or 'borrow'. The name derives from the Old English word burh, meaning "fortified town".
In England, Boroughs were created for two purposes.
1. To establish certain rights vis a vis the local lords.
These Boroughs generally were governed by a corporation, generally self-selected (ie when a member died or resigned his replacement would be co-opted rather than elected). Sometimes boroughs were governed by bailiffs or headboroughs.
2. To be represented in parliament (parliamentary boroughs)
Towns were granted borough status by Royal Charter. Representation in Parliament was decided by the House of Commons itself, so in many cases a borough might have no corporation or mayor yet be represented in Parliament, or vice versa.
The 1832 Reform act disfranchised many boroughs, some of which were little more than hamlets. Some of the new industrial towns of the North were represented in parliament for the first time.
Debates on the Reform act had highlighted the variations in types of town government and a Royal Commission was set up to investigate. As a result, town government was regularised in 1835. All councils were to be elected with a standard franchise based on property.
At the same time a system was devised by which a town could petition Parliament to be given borough status.
Various Reform acts gave more seats to the expanding boroughs, while disfranchising smaller ones. After 1884 voters in county and borough seats had the same franchise so the distinction was now less important.
In 1974 the old division between county and borough came to an end, with England being divided below county level into districts.
This change was to some extent reversed in the 1990s with some of the larger urban districts being given "unitary status", again with powere similar to counties.
The administrative districts of Greater London are also known as boroughs, apart from the City of London and the City of Westminster. Districts elsewhere in the country have the status of 'borough', which entitles them to have a mayor. There are also metropolitan boroughs and county boroughs.
Borough is also the name used to describe the political subdivisions of New York City. Each borough corresponds to, and is coterminous with, a county of New York State. The five boroughs that make up the city are:
- The Bronx (Bronx County)
- Brooklyn (Kings County)
- Manhattan (New York County)
- Queens (Queens County)
- Staten Island (Richmond County)
The U.S. state of Alaska is divided into boroughs, corresponding to the counties of most other States. Each borough has a borough seat which serves a purpose similar to a county seat in other U.S. states. However, most of the land area of the state is not under any borough-level government. The United States Census Bureau has divided the remainder of Alaska into census areas for statistical purposes.
A self-governing city or town in some U.S. States, such as Pennsylvania, is called a borough, sometimes spelled (in the municipality's name) boro. In some states (although not in Pennsylvania), boroughs may be grouped together under a governing township.
In Quebec, the term borough is used as the English translation of the French arrondissement, meaning an administrative division of a major city. Prior to the amalgamation of the City of Toronto, Ontario had one borough, East York.