Public services in Glasgow have roots in the perennial concern to maintain a safe and ordered community. From the 6th century the control of Glasgow was gradually consolidated under the bishop's authority. However, a formal framework of governance emerged after the creation of the burgh, by royal charter, around 1175. The boundaries of the community were legally defined and the burgh court became the primary instrument for law enforcement in cases of local disputes and crimes.
Over time a Town Council emerged to administer the court's responsibilities, headed by the provost and bailies as chief magistrates. The Tolbooth was the city's civic centre, a building that served as a jail and guardhouse, as well as a meeting place for councillors. As the population rose, municipal functions diversified. There was increasing focus on building control and environmental health regulations to protect the urban infrastructure. Yet services remained rudimentary especially for dealing with street cleansing and waste disposal. Fire was a constant hazard because of the concentration of timber dwellings.
Although the River Clyde was a major source of water supply, citizens could use centrally located wells, often constructed from public funds. The burgh's income, known as the Common Good, was derived largely from land rent, burgess fines, tolls and custom duties. Councillors also had powers to co-ordinate arrangements for administering the burgh during times of emergency. Famine and epidemic disease were recurring features of the pre-Reformation period and strict regulations were enforced to control food supplies and quarantine incomers who might infect the community.
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