England Quarter Session Records

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England Gotoarrow.png England Court Records

Quarter Session records started to be kept as early as the 13th century but most from the 16th century. These records dealt with the everyday man. Court was held four times a year. Anyone with a grievance could complain, no matter their social status. A rich variety of records exist, but not for all places and times. Among the records are:

  • Lists of names of justices present, bailiffs and high constables of Hundreds, and jurymen.
  • Writs to the sheriff, to summon juries, officers, defendants and others.
  • Presentments and returns on a variety of matters (some with signatures).
  • Indictments (formal accusations), usually in legal Latin language.
  • Bonds (a monetary fee) to ensure defendants and witnesses appear at the trial and that they are orderly.
  • Lists of prisoners, usually stating the offense and sometimes the sentence.
  • Complaints, Certificates and Testimonials concerning a variety of matters.
  • Licenses granted to persons for a variety of occupations, such as a alehouse keeper.
  • Removal Orders for Paupers. They were "removed" from their current location to their home parish.
  • Reports of Inspectors of Weights and Measures.
  • Certificates of dissenters' meeting-houses.

Quarter Session Procedures[edit | edit source]

These courts had judges (magistrates) and dispensed summary justice (that is, without juries). Higher level courts had juries and tried indictable offences (Martin 1994).

  • A summary offence is one that can only be tried summarily, that it before magistrates. Most minor offences are summary, and in 1855 summary jurisdiction for criminal offences became possible.
  • A summary conviction is a conviction in magistrates court.
  • An indictable offence is a serious one that may be tried by jury in a higher court than petty sessions.
  • An indictment is a formal document accusing one or more persons of a specified indictable offence or offences.[1]

County Administration[edit | edit source]

  • Appointments, salaries, fees, allowances, dismissals etc. of county officials.
  • Coroners reports and accounts.
  • County gaols and convict transportation.
  • Elections and voters’ lists.
  • Enclosure of land and deed, awards and agreements about land.
  • Licensing of various trades, non-conformist meeting houses, lunatic asylums, societies, charities, savings banks, printing presses, boats and barges etc., any of which may have been hived off to local licensing courts.
  • Militia recruitment training and billeting, also volunteers and navy recruitment and militia storehouses.
  • Regulating wages, rates for carriage and prices of staple goods, with establishment of positions such as the inspectors of weights and measures
  • Roads, bridges, and turnpike trusts.
  • Taxation, for example hearth tax, poor rates and land tax assessments.
  • Various oaths for conformity and allegiance.

In 1888 the county councils took the administrative load off the Quarter Sessions but the latter retained their licensing functions.

Judicial cases[edit | edit source]

By the 17th century many of the semi-secular cases formerly heard in church court went to the county Quarter Sessions. These included the huge amount of business generated by the Poor Laws. Records include:

  • Zillions of settlements, removals, vagrancy papers and poor apprenticeships records of which may not survive in individual parish chests.
  • Bastardy orders and dealing with delinquent fathers.
  • Offences against licensing laws and by-laws.
  • Non-payment of tithes and taxes.
  • Coroners’ reports and inquests.
  • A wide variety of other crimes. Until 1820 the Quarter Sessions dealt with about 200 felonies, the most common are listed below.

Chart: Crimes Treated as Felonies

Assault, especially on constables Manslaughter
Breaking hedges and fences Murder
Burglary Poultry stealing
Cattle stealing Rape
Damaging wagons, carts or ploughs Robbing a garden or orchard
Destroying grain or root crops Sheep stealing
Eavesdropping Theft of clothes
Highway robbery Theft of furniture
Horse stealing Wounding or maiming of cattle

An index is available for Sussex Quarter Sessions criminal convictions 1810-1854 on films 1657818-21. I found five Jupps and the index gives surname, first name, residence, occupation, age, place of offence, victim, court, date, case number, document reference, plea, committing magistrate, offence, sentence and any comments.

Cases were referred from local petty and borough sessions, where they existed, and the Quarter Sessions heard disputes and claims regarding everything from apprenticeships and soldiers’ pensions to public nuisances. Many types of cases were routed to the new police courts during the 19th century but Quarter Session continued to sit as criminal courts for non-capital offences until 1971. Almost anything can be found in Quarter Sessions since they encompass most human failings. However, capital offences such as murder and treason usually went to the Assizes, and divorce, international relations, probate, and shipwrecks at sea went to special courts.

Court Procedure[edit | edit source]

Court procedure, and associated records, consist of:

  • Jury lists for each session.
  • Indictment, accusation or presentment of a complaint—which could be from the constables, overseers or any private person.
  • Jury decides whether there was enough evidence for a case (a true bill) or not (no true bill).
  • Examination of the accused and witnesses by two JPs, their statements being recorded as depositions.
  • If the accused pleaded guilty then he could be sentenced immediately. If he pleaded not guilty then he would go to gaol unless he could find two bondsmen to give a financial recognizance (typically £20-40, about a year’s wages for a labourer). The names and residences of the bondsmen, who were often fathers or brothers can be important clues to the accused’s family and provenance.
    The court also required recognizances from the prosecutors and witnesses to appear and pursue the case. These people were paid their expenses, and those who brought criminals to justice by hanging received a coveted Tyburn ticket. This exempted them from future parish duties and was a saleable item (but only once) -see an actual example in Cole (2001d).
  • The verdict of the court and the sentence given if found guilty.
Coventry Quarter Sessions 1822 Film 1067656
The indictment files show papers concerning the case of grand larceny against Lucy Faulconbridge brought by John Day. If the prosecutor did not show up then the magistrates could dismiss the case. However when the time came for this trial two deponents certify on 14 Oct 1822 that John Day cannot attend because he has been dangerously ill of an affliction of the head for upwards of three weeks now last past..... and that the wife of the said John Day was this morning delivered of a male child and is consequently unable to leave her bed.
Where else can you find such family detail?

The general records of Quarter Sessions include:

  • Sessions Minute Books which are the summaries of the events of each session, which lead to -
  • Sessions Rolls which include the evidence presented for each case which is where the real gems are. They are often grouped together for each case with a leather string punched right through the middle of the pieces of parchment or paper!
  • Order Booksinclude the court’s decisions on every item of court business, see Hunt for a description.

Separate records frequently exist for specific types of administration or cases such as indictment rolls, fines, or recognizances.

McLaughlin (Quarter Sesssions: Your Ancestor and the Law. Varneys Press, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, 1995) has a worthwhile and amusing introduction to Quarter Session records, and Brown speaks about the history of Quarter Sessions with examples from Surrey. Barlow’s (Passion, Violence and Petty Squabbles: Hampshire Quarter Sessions 1778-1786. Family Tree Magazine. Part I in Vol 20 #10, page 24-26; Part 2 in Vol 20 #11, page 20-22; Part 3 in Vol 20 #12, page 60-62; Part 4 in Vol 21 #1, page 77-79) fascinating series of articles on the Hampshire Quarter Sessions 1778-1786 is a thoughtful assessment of the court process and the times with good examples.

Cameron’s (The Middlesex Quarter Sessions. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 10 #1, page 1-7) article on the Middlesex Quarter Sessions dates from 1947 but still contains some useful historical data. Ratcliffe (An Introduction to Quarter Sessions Records. Metropolitan (London and North Middlesex Family History Society) Vol 19 #3, page 146-149) and Chapman (Quarter Session Records. Practical Family History #11 page 7, 1998) have historical introductions. Gibson (Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians. Federation of Family History Societies, 1995) provides a county-by-county listing of the material of most use to family historians, although it must be noted that he concentrates on pre-1850 records and later material is plentiful as well. County record offices were primarily set up to house and preserve these session records so they usually have them well catalogued.

Nominal indexes do exist for whole sessions but these may only refer to the main names such as the plaintiffs and defendants. Some examples include:

  • Surrey Quarter Sessions papers 1700-1799 nominal index on fiche 6036505(3), place index on 6036506(3).
  • Shropshire Quarter Sessions (including the petty sessions) 1831-1920 index is on CD available from the county society, and on the Discovering Shropshire’s History website . Powell has used it to good advantage.
  • Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions 1833-1843 by Le Hardy (1957).
  • East Sussex Quarter Sessions 1810-1854 by the Friends of the East Sussex Record Office.[2]

Location of Records[edit | edit source]

Records are housed in county or council offices in England. Few have been indexed but they are usually arranged by date. Some are on film in the Family History Library. Search for your county of interest in the FamilySearch Catalog for:


A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:

England, Kent, Quarter Sessions and Court Files - FamilySearch Historical Records

Examples[edit | edit source]

Sessions Cases[edit | edit source]

A selection of examples of matters dealt with at Petty, Borough and Quarter sessions follow.

Apprentices[edit | edit source]

There are approvals from magistrates for binding poor apprentices, as well as cases regarding misbehaviour or and mistreatment of all apprentices.

Essex Quarter Sessions 1828 Film 0853352
William James Edwards an apprentice to Richard Lamprell carpenter
of Chelmsford has absconded and his master requests assistance in
having him returned.

Petty Sessions for the hundreds of Blackheath and Little and Lessness, Kent 16 March 1792 [Highley]
List of children bound apprentices by the Officers of St. Paul's Deptford to Mr. James Johnstone of Hollywell in Flintshire cotton manufacturer.
Name Age Name Age
John Barker 12 Thomas Luttman 12
Henry Bois 11 Rachel Mace 11
Thomas Bowen 12 John Norburn 10
Edward Clark 11 Mary Oldes 11
Elizabeth Crookett 12 Sarah Aspinall Paine 11
Sarah Dixon 11 James Ross 11
Samuel Edwards 12 Sophia Russell 13
John Wade Humphrey 12 Elizabeth Styles 12
Mary Joblen 12 Rose Styles 10
[Signed by] Churchwardens: William Hunt, George Emmett
Overseers of the Poor: Richard Burnett, Matthew Garland
[Magistrates present] Richard Burnett, Matthew Garland
NB These two names repeated - perhaps a transcription error?

Bastardy[edit | edit source]

Petty Sessions records and/or Justices Minute Books are the usual place to find a child support or maintenance order request known as an application of the mother after the birth of a bastard, probably within a year of the birth. It gives the name of the reputed father, his occupation and address, and may have been taken out even if the couple married just before the birth or afterwards (Cole 1998b).

If there were no petty sessions for the area try the quarter sessions. Cole (Questions and Answers (Petty Sessions). Family Tree Magazine Vol 17 #10, page 21) has a lot of experience with petty sessions records and reports that if an illegitimate child was residing in the workhouse then the Board of Guardians’ relieving officer usually brought a case against the reputed father, as many fathers reneged on their maintenance payments. They were formerly required until the child was 7 (and thus able to work!) and by the 19th century age 13. Bastardy complaints can be found up to the late 20th century.

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1804 Film 0088146
John Haggerd the younger of Tilehurst labourer for begetting Ann Stacy of Tilehurst (wife of Caleb Stacy a private in the 26th Regt of Light Dragoons) with child.

Wednesbury, Staffordshire 1731 [from Armstrong 2000]
St. Bartholomew, Wednesbury baptisms. 3 April 1731.
Thomas son of Syddon, Broakes, Shelly, begotten by all three according to the oath of the woman, upon the body of Ann Baker, a bastard child.
Memorand: Justice Worley caused the child to be thrown upon the parish by maintaining at the sessions that it was impossible a child should be begotten but by the semen of one man only, therefore if all three sworn to by the woman should be charged with the maintenance of the child, two of them must be wronged. Therefore he thought it less injustice to wrong the whole parish.

Constables[edit | edit source]

All kinds of disturbances of the peace would be brought to the sessions by the constables, assault and drunkenness being of-course common. A fascinating police series of descriptions and photographs of post-1902 habitual drunkards is described by Wood (2004). Any riotous, violent or indecent behaviour in any place of worship could be brought before a JP from 1860.

Malefactors would be confined in the village lock-up, and punishments meted out in the stocks or pillory, whilst stray animals were impounded, i.e. kept in the village pound or pinfold; Tate (The Parish Chest. Phillimore, Chichester, West Sussex.) has illustrations of surviving examples of each of these.

Nash (Naked Fury in Regency Frome. The Greenwood Tree (Somerset and Dorset Family History Society) Vol 28 #2, page 39) describes the journal of a constable in Frome, Somerset 1813-1818, Price’s (The Wigginton [Oxfordshire] Constables’ Book 1691-1836. Banbury Historical Society Volume 11. [Reviewed in Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 17 #5, page 248-249]) transcription of a constable’s book gives a good idea of his duties and Bennett (Constables’ Accounts #26 in Short Guides to Records edited by Kathryn M. Thompson. Historical Association. FHL book 942 A3 v2 and film 0990062 has a useful guide to constables accounts.

Constable’s Assault Complaint and Receipt Of Fine
Liberty of St. Peter, York 1835
FHL Collection

To all Constables in the said Liberty, and to each and every
of them.
WHEREAS Ann the wife of John Webster of Bedem(?) in the said
Liberty combmaker
hath this Day made Information and Complaint, upon Oath, before me, one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said Liberty, That Martha Caltry singlewoman, Sarah Campey singlewoman and Ruth Caltry widow did on the 4th instant violently assault and strike the said Ann Webster and Eliza her daughter. THESE are therefore to authorize and require you, and each of you, to apprehend the said Martha Caltry, Sarah Campey and Ruth Caltry and bring them before me, or some other of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said Liberty, to answer to the said Complaint, and to be dealt with according to Law.
Given under my hand and seal the 5th day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty five.
[signed] Danson R. Currer

Be it remembered that I, the undersigned, one of the Overseers of the Poor of the Township of the Minster Yard with Bedern in the
said Liberty
, have this day received the sum of One pound and ten
the amount of a Fine adjudged by two of his Majesty’s
Justices of the Peace for the said Liberty, to be paid by Martha
Caltry, Ruth Caltry
and Ann Campey for having on Friday the
fourth day of December last at the Township aforesaid, committed
an unlawful Assault upon Ann the wife of John Webster and others.
And which said Fine is to be paid over by me to the use of the general Rate of the Said Township pursuant to the statute in that case made and provided.
Dated the 12th day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty five.
[Signed] Edward Jackson

Later records can be listed under Police Occurrence Books, for example the series for Maldon, Essex on film 1703002 which are the daily reports of the police constables and contain the minutiae of everyday life in the town.

Coroners' Inquests[edit | edit source]

The office of coroner (from crowner since they represented the crown) began in 1194 and they originally had several responsibilities including confiscating the property of outlaws (those who had failed to show up in court), investigation of crimes, shipwrecks and treasure trove.

This was gradually restricted to the single duty of investigating the circumstances of sudden, unnatural or suspicious deaths. The sole qualification until 1926 was that the coroner be a landholder. Since that time he or she has to be a barrister, solicitor or qualified medical practitioner, and may have deputies.

The coroner worked with a jury of from 12-24 good and lawful men, although numbers were reduced to 7-11 in 1926. Fees were paid but coroners were not given salaries until 1860. The inquests were held at any suitable local building, often a local inn. The parish beadle summoned witnesses who would include the local doctor, friends, neighbours and any relevant officials such as nurses or prison officers.

Hopwood (The Coroners Courts. Family and Local History Handbook 5th edition page 36-39) describes the court process in detail with many examples and illustrations, Gandy (Looking Through Their Eyes: Coroners’ Inquests. Practical Family History #46 page 7) has a number of examples of cases, Cole and Rogers (Coroners’ Inquest Records. #46 in Short Guides to Records edited by Kathryn M. Thompson. Historical Association. FHL Collection has useful background, and Harvey (HARVEY, Roger. 2003. Date of Death in Genealogical Miscellany by WOOD, Tom. Family Tree magazine Vol 19 #4, page 17) discusses the subject of decomposition of the body from the coroner’s point of view.

The record from the coroner’s court lists the names of the jurors as well as the verdict. The coroner’s bill (or voucher) for his expenses may be more informative, often including the name of the deceased, the date and place of inquest, cause of death and verdict. In York in 1831-1834 the records were named coroners’ inquisitions (film 1545354) and the one for John Epworth is signed by 14 jurymen, with their verdict:

John Epworth on the 18th June 1832 had some laudanum
administered to him and that in consequence thereof the said John
Epworth did on this 19th June languish and die and jury say that
the said John Epworth came so to his death and not otherwise.

The coroner’s bill states:

Name: John Epworth of Presentons Court in the parish of St.
Michael le Belfrey in the city of York and in the said Liberty of St. Peter of York.

When taken: 19 June 1832.
Where taken: At the Hall of Pleas in the said Liberty of St. Peter of York.
Verdict: Died in consequence of laudanum being administered to him.
Distance: --[coroners were allowed mileage charges]
Sum: £1.0.0

Many coroners’ records have been destroyed with most surviving ones from 1750 being at county archives, often with the Quarter Sessions records, and there is a 75-year (formerly 100 years) closure period. Harrison (Did She Fall or Was She Pushed? Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 20 #8, page 280-281) and Beech (Coroners’ Records. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 20 #9, page 618) both provide refreshing insight into obtaining coroners’ records. Gibson and Rogers have provided a finding aid which has an excellent introduction. Local newspapers are often more available and frequently give more detail since witness statements usually no longer exist, although there are many at the City of London Record Office (Clippingdale). Records of inquests handed to the assize justices, those for the Palatinates of Chester and Lancaster, and those for prisoners who died in Kings Bench Prison (mostly debtors) or the Millbank Penitentiary are at TNA. There are some indexes, for example for Sussex 1485-1688 by Hunnisett (Sussex Coroners’ Inquests 1485-1558. Sussex Record Society).[3]

Gaols[edit | edit source]

The records of planning, construction, repairs and provisions for gaols and bridewells name the tradesmen involved and show their bills. Records were also kept of the keepers and other staff.

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1785 Film 0088144
Elizabeth Prince, widow of John Prince deceased, late keeper of
his Majesties Bridewell at Abingdon ... be appointed to keep the
said Bridewell.
There were numerous tradesmen named for doing building and repair work on the gaol.
Film 0088146 In 1810 Mrs Elizabeth Prince was
awarded £10 annually in consideration of the long services of her
late husband and herself as keepers of the Bridewell in Abingdon.
Film 0088147 In 1815 Elizabeth Prince the former
Bridewell keeper of Abingdon having applied for a further
allowance, ordered that she be paid £10 per annum in addition to
her present allowance.

Licencing and Excise Law Enforcement[edit | edit source]

There have been acts of parliament regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages since the 1552 Alehouse Act where recognizances (essentially character references) that the retailer would keep an orderly house had to be made before two justices. Clerks of the peace were ordered to keep an annual register of victuallers’ recognizances in 1619, but this doesn’t seem to have been complied with until the Licensing Act of 1753 made it mandatory. The most detailed registers contain the names of the licensees, the parish, the inn sign, the occupation of the victualler, and the names and occupations of those standing surety. These usually cease in 1828 when the issuing of annual licenses commenced. Court sessions held solely for licensing of victuallers or pubs were called brewster sessions.

Notice Regarding Upcoming Special Petty Sessions for Licensing 1832 Liberty of Saint Peter of York Film 1545354
Notice is Hereby Given
That his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the Liberty of Saint Peter of York, assembled at the last General Annual Licensing Meeting held in and for the said Liberty, did appoint Five Special Petty Sessions to be holden in and for the said Liberty, at the Sessions-House in the Minster-Yard, in the City of York, and within the said Liberty, at the hour of Twelve at Noon, on the several Saturdays following in the present and the year next ensuing, that is to say - the Twentieth day of October in the present year; and the Fifth day of January, the Fifth day of April, the Fifth day of July, and the Sixth day of September, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three, for the purpose of Licensing Persons intending to keep Inns, Alehouses, and Victualling Houses, theretofore kept by other Persons being about to remove therefrom; and granting Licences in the other Cases, in the manner and for the time directed by the Act of Parliament for regulating the granting of Ale Licences.
Date the [blank] day of October, 1832.
[unsigned copy] Constable

List of Licensed Victuallers 1836

Selection from list on Film 1545354
A List of persons to whom Licences to keep Inns, Alehouses or Victualling Houses within the Liberty of St. Peter of York were granted at the General Annual Licensing Meeting held for the said Liberty on Saturday the tenth day of September 1836.

Name of Person licensed
William Harrison
White Swan
James Smithers
Bishop Wilton

James Jebson
John Kirby

Cross Keys
Rose and Crown
John Marchant
Alice Holgate widow
Board Green
Benjamin Johns
Robert Teal
Thomas Proctor
Abraham Mary Nichols
Red Lion
Jolly Sailors
Black Swan
John Beal
Ann Linfoot
Cross Keys
Gate Helmsby
Leonard Fowler
Thomas Fewster
Three Cups
Black Horse

Details of surviving victuallers’ licences and other records by county are given by Gibson and Hunter (Victuallers’ Licences. Federation of Family History Societies, 1997). In one incomplete series I examined for Abingdon, Berkshire Henry Prince renewed his annual licence each autumn in 1803, 1806, 1807, 1810 for the Plough and 1811 for the New Plough. There are further details about pubs and publicans in the National Institute for Genealogical Studies course English: Occupations Professions and Trades.

Quarter session records, 1703-1853 Film 0088144
Charles Driscoll convicted of obstinately standing mute and refusing to plead to a bill of indictment preferred against him by William Clemers for having in his possession more than 6lbs weight of tea, the duty not having been paid for same.
Essex Quarter Session 1761 Film 1702790
9 May 1761 The dwelling house of John South in Steeple Bumpstead is licensed as a Methodist meeting house.

A more modern kind of license can be found on film 1703002 containing the Register of Licenses for the sale of petroleum in Maldon, Essex 1891-1895. Among those registered were:

17 Jan 1891 George Harvey of Bradwell had a house and
premises as a grocer and was licensed to sell and keep on hand 40
gallons of petroleum.
15 Sep 1899 Florence Rose Ann Martin of Bush Cottage, The Downs was engaged in boat building and was licensed to keep 20 gallons in metal vessels.

Matrimonial Cases[edit | edit source]

These are plentiful in petty sessions especially after the married women’s Act of 1895 allowed separation from husband and custody of children (Bird). A couple of rare prior examples from Wiltshire Petty Sessions are described by Cole (Those Whom God Hath Joined Together... Family Tree Magazine Vol 18 #8, page 71-72, 2002). One is for alimony claimed by a deserted wife, the other is a marital separation after assault.

Militia[edit | edit source]

An Act of Parliament in 1703 for raising recruits for the land forces and marines required that their names be recorded at the quarter sessions. There are lists of militia, volunteers and navy recruits in Quarter Sessions. A useful source for men who suddenly fall off the edge of your family history map. Adrian Webb (Was Your Ancestor Recruited in Somerset? Family Tree Magazine Vol 18 #7, page 54) has described the early system with examples from Somerset, and Gibson and Medlycott (Militia Lists and Musters 1757-1876: A Directory of Holdings in the British Isles. Federation of Family History Societies.) have provided a county-by-county directory of militia lists (of eligible men) and muster rolls (of those who served).

Petty Sessions for the hundreds of Blackheath and Little and Lessness, Kent 16 March 1792 [Highley]
Volunteers for the parish of Greenwich enrolled in the Navy for the French Wars 8 April 1795.
Birth Place
Thomas Aleviche
Bethnal Green
William Blacklock
Aldergate, London
Cabinet maker
William Bowren
Hackney, London
John Buck
Ord. seaman
Robert Higgins
Chimney sweep
Jacob Holton
Chimney sweep
John Holton
John Mane
Ord. seaman
Arthur Miles
Strood, Kent
Thomas Mills
Abraham Reynolds
William Ryves
Ord. seaman

Misdemeanours[edit | edit source]

A great variety of complaints were brought before petty, borough and quarter sessions, with some examples following:

Lamberhurst, Kent parishioners sent a petition to the Quarter
Session in 1595 regarding the diverse and sundrie mydemeanures
of Thomas Harrys, Vycar
and asking the justices of the peace to
give order to binde him to his better behaviour. The details of what
was going on in this parish are enlightening! (Moon).
Kingston, Surrey Quarter Sessions 1780 [Film 0991847]
John Orringe of Reigate made complaint to the justices on 15 Feb
1780 that John Wright esquire of Reigate had refused to pay his
wages totally £8. On 14 Mar 1780 Joseph Whately the JP issued a
note demanding that John Wright pay John Orrringe’s wages.
Faversham Borough Sessions undated Film 1851039
The Overseer of the parish of Faversham presents to the Court of
Sessions the following complaints, praying that the Court will
inflict punishment on the offenders as they may think expedient.
Hannah Warren for having had four bastard children and
bringing them all a charge upon the parish.
Mary Smith for the like offence three children.
Mary Moore for like offence, one child - and for misconduct
in the Poor House and general insolence and violent behaviour to the
Master and Mistress of the Workhouse.
Lucy Chambers for breaking out of the Bridewell of the Poor
House where she was confined, and refusing to work or assist in
any of the Duties of the House.
Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1790 Film 0088144
The King and Aaron Mearing, for administering a potion to cause an
abortion. He was sent to the pillory and then solitary confinement.

East Sussex Quarter Sessions 1842 Film 1657819
17 Sep 1842. Henry Dertnall of Keymer, labourer, conviction of
trespassing on a railway was filed at this session.

Frant, Sussex Magistrates Warrant 1815 Film 364155
Warrant to the constable of the hundred of Rotherfield and to the
churchwardens and overseers of Frant and also to the
churchwardens and overseers of Wadhurst to apprehend Edward
Batnup of Wadhurst, who frequently goeth at large in Frant
disordered by Lunacy and dangerous, and to keep him locked up in
the Poor House of Wadhurst so long as such lunacy shall continue
and no longer.

East Sussex Quarter Sessions 1842 Film 1657819
4 Jul 1844 Conviction filed for William Augustus Dashwood
for being an idle and disorderly person.

Middlesex Quarter Sessions 1617 [from Le Hardy 1941]
Recognizances to keep the peace:
John Mutley of Wapping shipwright and Hugh Robson of the same
lighterman, for Agnes wife of Condy Archer towards Margaret
Roger Johnson of Rosemary Lane inkseller and Henry Wemb of the
same blacksmith, for Henry Saile of the same labourer towards
John Lee and his wife.

Nuisances[edit | edit source]

You’ll never know what your ancestors got up to, or were faced with, until you search the sessions records! Most cases seem to be for leaving dunghills or otherwise obstructing the roads but there are plenty of other nuisances too.

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1788 Film 0088144
John Hobbs in keeping a dog of a very fierce and furious nature to
the great danger of the public.

Parish Officers[edit | edit source]

Appointments of parish officials, as well as scrutiny of their reports and their accounts fell to the county clerk and magistrates.

All adult males took their turn as unpaid parish officers, and were reimbursed for expenses. An important advantage to holding such an office for a year was that it conferred the right of settlement in the parish, and the holder could not be evicted later if he fell on hard times.

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1795 Film 0088145
John Elisha of Shinfield, farmer, is appointed one of the Chief
Constables of the Hundred of Charlton in the room of [taking over
from] Thomas Toms.

Kingston, Surrey Quarter Sessions 1793 Film 0993053
Persons qualified to serve the office of Tithingman for the parish of Windlesham in the stead of James Lane.

Joseph Chapman - shopkeeper
Richard Dale - carpenter
Edward Hammond - yeoman

Bromley Petty Sessions 3rd May 1784
Present: John Cator esq., Benj. Harene esq.
Film 2145577

The persons whose names are hereunder written were appointed
Overseers of the Poor of the respective parishes under which they are hereafter named (viz)

Bromley Keston St. Pauls Cray
Willm Lascoe John Wiffen Phillip Mosyer
George Shorter Thos Chapman Edwd Everest

St. Mary Cray
William Langlands
Willm Bath
Chrisr Farrant
George Barringer
Will: Spencer
Thos Chapman

West Wickham
John Hills
Edwd Hudson
John Glover
Edwd Everet
John Cooper
Wm Youmans

James Collins
William Burr
Bathw Jackson
Willm Firminger
William Phipps
Anthy Crane

North Cray
John Bannister
John Smith
Robt Woodmass
Robt Eves
Edwd Elliott
John Curteis


Geo: Whiffen
Stephen Brooker

Stephen Cook
Saml Rush esq.
Parish Officers’ Reports Faversham Borough Session Files Film 1851039
October 14 1794
John Benstead made diligent survey of meats and found them sweat and good for mans body and not very fatt at times in the market
Presenter of Butchers John Benstead.

Wee the Ale Conners have made sirch and found on Sep 11 at the
House of Wm Feakens at the Flowerdeluce, the Bear [sic - beer]
very week stale and thick, not fit for the body of men.
Likewise in Sep 12 at the House of Wm Black at the Herliquin the
bear was so week thick and sower wee could not drinck it at all.
Heny Anderson, Thos Haywood X his mark

October 23 1784
The Presenter of West Street having a complaint made to him by
Mr Richd Spratbrow that road before his door being raised so high
when it rains causeth the filth to drean in to the well which makes
it unfit for serves. Thos Sibon junior.

Roads and Bridges[edit | edit source]

Sessions records contain matters relating to the creation and maintenance of the main roads and bridges.

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1799 Film 0088145
Philip Mate of Thatcham, keeper of a turnpike gate fined 40/- for
taking a greater toll than he was authorized.

Essex Quarter Sessions 1827 Film 0853352
It is ordered by the Court that the treasurers of this County or one
of them do pay to Mr Matthew Gardner the sum of seventeen
pounds fourteen shillings and six pence being the amount of his
late Bill for repairing the Bridge called Long Bridge situate in
Little Coggeshall in the said County, which Bill hath been now
produced to and allowed by this Court.

Settlements and Removals[edit | edit source]

Perhaps half of the business conducted at every Quarter Sessions consisted of deciding appeals against removal orders (Cole 2001c), and each gives so much family history which cannot be obtained elsewhere.

Besides the overall indexes to Quarter Sessions materials there are separate published indexes to the Quarter Session settlement and removal cases in many counties, for example for Somerset 1607-1700 by Webb (An Index to Somerset Settlement and Removal Cases in Quarter Sessions 1607-1700. Somerset and Dorset Family, History Society)

Some of the cases which the justices had to scratch their heads about in 1784 in Bromley, Kent are given below.

Chart: Petty Sessions Settlement Exams
Bromley, Kent 3rd May 1784
Film 2145577

Rachel Lark now residing in Bexley singlewoman, upon her oath
saith that she was born in the Workhouse at Bexley. Says her late
Father was legally settled in Bexley as she has heard and believes.
Says she has never done any act to gain a settlement in her own
right except that she was about four years ago married to one Thos
Newman whom it now appears was then and still is a married man
being married to another woman. Says she has three illegitimate
children by the said Thomas Newman all born in the parish of
Woolwich, namely Mary aged about three years and an half, Ann aged about two years and Elizth aged about four months.
Rachel Lark X her mark

Sarah Rogers now residing in Bexley and being the wife of John
Rogers now a convict in the gaol of Maidstone [Says] upon her
oath that she hath never heard and doth not know where the place
of her said husband’s local settlement is. Says she was born (as she
has heard and believes) in the parish of Cooksham in Oxfordshire and
where her late father John Crook was settled. Says she has three
children by the said John Rogers named and ages as in the margin -
Willm aged 6 yrs, Tho: 3, Sophia 11/4 -
Sarah Rogers X her mark

William Bawcutt now residing in Bexley labr upon his oath saith
that the place of his locall settlement is in the parish of Stow in
Northamptonshire which he gained by a hiring and service to Mr
Thomas Harman a farmer for a whole year in Stow aforesaid. Not
having done any act to gain a settlement elsewhere. Says he was
legally married to Margt late Margt Brown widow at Greenwich by
whom he hath no child.
The mark of Willm Bawcutt X

Anne Cole (1990) describes her favourite settlement examination:
James Thompson, born in North America came to England in 1777
and was pressed into the Royal Navy in 1782. He was discharged
and admitted to Greenwich Hospital as an out-pensioner and lived
in London. However, he was apprehended as a ‘rogue and
vagabond’ in Sleaford, Lincolnshire in 1784 explaining that
someone had tried to apply for his semi-annual pension in
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire but by the time he got there the bills
had been returned to London, so he needed a pass back there.

Taxation[edit | edit source]

Records of the collection of taxes for many purposes were kept by the county clerk, and cases heard for those unwilling or unable to pay.

Frant, Sussex Magistrate Summons 1815 Film 1364155
Summons to Wm Francis Woodgate esqire of Tunbridge, Kent to
show cause why he refused to pay £7. 16s Poor Rate.

Theft[edit | edit source]

The cut-off point between petty and grand larceny was 1/- so many goods were valued at slightly under a shilling, say 10d so they could be dealt with in Quarter Sessions rather than be sent up to the Assizes. Barlow (2004 part 2) quotes a blatant case making the crime fit the sessions in 1782 in Hampshire where a total value of 10d was placed on 22 silver buttons, one black coarse gown, one pair of stays, one apron, a check shirt, two black silk handkerchiefs and 10 lbs of tallow!

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1800 Film 0088146
John Palmer transported for 7 years for stealing 4 cheeses value 10d, property of Ann Hallard widow. [Perhaps not his first offence]

Warwickshire Quarter Sessions 1850 Film 0225170 There are nine pages of depositions regarding the loss of a duck!
Mary Jeffs on her oath saith: I am a singlewoman and live in the
parish of Brailes in the County of Warwick. I am a servant to Mr
John Warmington of that Parish farmer. I have been in his Service
about a year and a half. From about May last I have had the care
of Mr Warmington’s Ducks. It was my custom to fasten up all the
Poultry every night. We had four Ducks and a Drake. They were
all safe on Saturday morning last, and at night when I went to shut
them up one Duck was missing. Two were light coloured ones and
one of these was gone. The Duck produced by the Police Officer is
the one we lost. I know it by its feathers and from having reared it
and had the care of it every since.
X the mark of Mary Jeffs
Taken and sworn before me, H. Townsend.

Essex Quarter Sessions Indictment 1827 Film 0853352
It is ordered by this Court that the Bill of Indictment which has
been preferred and found at this present Session against William
Monk, William Dellar and Crane Harris for an Highway Robbery, together with the recognizance now taken in Court for the
prosecution of the same (or a transcript or certificate of such
recognizance) be transmitted by the Clerk of the Peace to the next
Assizes or Gaol Delivery to be holden for the said County in order
that the said William Monk, William Dellar and Crane Harris may then take their trial on such Bill of Indictment.

East Sussex Quarter Sessions 1842 Film 1657819 29 Jun 1842 Recognizances filed by Levi Jupp late of Horsham labourer and sureties, for poaching in the night time and not to offend again for one year.

Rochester, Kent 1742
A certificate authorizing payment of a £40 reward for the
apprehension of John Ransom [appropriate name!] convicted of
highway robbery in Smarden, Kent was issued by the sergeant-at-law
and magistrates at Rochester on 19 Mar 1742. This item is on
vellum, 8 x 13" manuscript and signed by Thomas Hussey, the sergeant-at-law and countersigned on the reverse by the three men
who apprehended Ransom. Offered for sale at auction (Titford).

Ashbourne Petty Sessions, Derbyshire 1863 A most interesting case is reported by Armstrong (1993). James Clifford of Shardlow gentleman was charged with removing, in 1804, a page from the Longford parish register containing baptism entries for 1724-1729. The depositions of four witnesses are long and detailed and give much family detail about various members of the community.

Bow Street Police Court Theft Case
Summary of newspaper report in The Times 5 Sep 1823
Page 3, issue 11969, col D

Two men, Darby and McCarthy were accused of plundering Lady Ann Dashwood of [silver] plate. The report details at length how McCarthy supplied Lady Dashwood with fruit through Darby, her butler. McCarthy wasn’t being paid on time and Darby gave him some plate to pawn to raise the money to pay his bill. Lady Dashwood had once given Darby permission to pawn some spoons, but the justices felt he had overstepped his authority and committed him to Newgate for trial.

Indictment For Larceny 1842
Borough of Faversham in Kent.
Film 1851039
To wit. The Jurors for our Sovereign Lady the Queen upon their
Oath present, that John Hopkins (plea Not Guilty) late of the
parish of Faversham within the Borough of Faversham labourer
on the 8th day of January
in thefifth Year of the Reign of our
Sovereign Lady Victoria, by the Grace of God Queen of the United
Kingdon of Great Britain and Ireland, at the parish aforesaid, in the borough
aforesaid was servant to one Joseph Kingsnorth and that
the said John Hopkins afterwards and whilst he was such servant
to the said Joseph Kingsnorth as aforesaid and
William Hopkins
(plea not guilty) late of Faversham aforesaid labourer, on the day
and year aforesaid at the parish aforesaid and within the borough
aforesaid [stole ]
three gallons of peas of the value of one shilling
of the goods and chattels of the said Joseph Kingsnorth master of
the said John Hopkins
then and there being found, feloniously did
steal, take and carry away, against the Peace of our said Lady the
Queen her Crown and Dignity.
Verdict: John Hopkins - Guilty. Sentence - to be imprisoned and
kept in solitary confinement at St. Augustine’s Canterbury for
seven days.

Verdict: Wm Hopkins - Guilty. Sentence - to be imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement at St. Augustine’s Canterbury for
seven days.

Occasionally quarter and borough sessions would pass a sentence of death, an example is shown below.

Chart: Calendar of Crimes and Sentences
Faversham Borough Sessions and Gaol Delivery 1824
Film 1851039

A Calendar containing the names, the crimes, and the sentences of every prisoner tried at the General Sessions of the Place and Gaol delivery holden in and for the town of Faversham in the county of Kent on Tuesday the 11th day of May 1824 distinguishing with respect to all prisoners capitally convicted such of them as may have been reprieved by the Court and stating the day on which execution is to be done upon those who have not been reprieved. [One wonders whether the names of the first three are real or placed as examples for the clerks]
Day on which execution is to be done upon those who have not been reprieved
Samuel Faulty


Peter Sly
John Scamp
15th May 1824 at Gallows Hole
Thomas Stedman alias Catt
Horse stealing
Not Guilty
Timothy Twyman
----- Keeper of the Gaol at Faversham in the County of Kent
John Harvey Chappendle

Lawrence Conroy
Assault with intent to murder
12 months imprisonment in Faversham gaol

Maidstone Quarter Sessions 1596/7 fiche 6025950
In January 1596/7 Helen Coppinger and Frances Mountford both of St. George, Southwark, Surrey were convicted of stealing 7s.4d in money from the house of Allan Lewes in Detling, Kent; and Elizabeth Parry of Strood stole clothes from Jane Style from the house of John Miller at Frindsbury. They were sentenced to death, however, there was a loophole for females who could manage to become pregnant before they came to court! Helen, Frances and Elizabeth were separately asked whether they knew any reason why they ought not to be put to death. They said they are pregnant and ask for the benefit of their increased wombs. A jury of matrons enquired whether they are pregnant or not and said that they are; therefore judgement is stayed.

Trade Regulation[edit | edit source]

Berkshire Quarter Sessions 1790 Film 0088144
Joseph Blagrove of Suttton Courtenay baker, for exercising the
trade of baker without having served an apprenticeship of 7 years

Kingston, Surrey Quarter Sessions 1756 Film 0993027
Copy of printed handbill from the town clerk of Shrewsbury.
Town of Shrewsbury
At the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace of our Sovereign
Lord the King, held at the Guildhall in and for the Town of
Shrewsbury and the Liberties thereof: On Friday the 30th Day of
April 1756 being the next General or Quarter Sessions held for the
said Town and Liberties after Easter-Day last.
[In margin] 112 lb to the C[wt = hundredweight]
By virtue of the Act of Parliament in that Case made, the Justices
of the Peace assembled at this Sessions, have assessed and rated
the Price of all Land Carriage of Goods whatsoever, (except
Money, Plate or Jewels) that shall be brought from London to this
Town, by any common Waggoner or Carrier, at the Rates and
Prices following, (viz.) L..s..d
For every Parcel not exceeding 12 lb Weight 0..1..0
And for every larger Parcel proportionately
By the Hundred (at 112 lb to the Hundred)
Between Lady-Day and the first of November 0..7..0
Between the first of November and Lady-Day 0..9..0
and no more.
And it is ordered by this Court, that these Rates be Printed and sent
to the several Serjeants at Mace, under-Officers and Constables,
within the said Town and Liberties, and affixed up in some publick
Places in the said Town and Liberties, to which all Persons may
resort for Inspection. And that the common Waggoners and
Carriers may not be ignorant of the Law, they are to take Notice,
that by the 3 and 4 William and Mary, and the 21 George II, no
common Waggoner or Carrier shall take for Carriage to or from
London above the Rates so assessed, on pain of forfeiting for every
Offence Five Pounds, to the Use of the Party grieved, to be levied
by a Warrant of two Justices of the Peace.
By the Court
Edwards, Town-Clerk.[7]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Christensen, Penelope. "England Petty, Borough, and Quarter Sessions (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Petty,_Borough,_and_Quarter_Sessions_%28National_Institute%29#Borough_Sessions.
  2. Christensen, Penelope. "England Quarter Session Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quarter_Session_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  3. Christensen, Penelope. "England Examples of Quarter Sessions Cases (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Examples_of_Quarter_Sessions_Cases_%28National_Institute%29.
  4. Christensen, Penelope. "England Further Examples of Quarter Sessions Cases (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Further_Examples_of_Quarter_Sessions_Cases_%28National_Institute%29.
  5. Christensen, Penelope. "England Additional Examples of Quarter Sessions Cases (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Additional_Examples_of_Quarter_Sessions_Cases_%28National_Institute%29.
  6. Christensen, Penelope. "England Quarter Session Settlements and Removals (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quarter_Session_Settlements_and_Removals_%28National_Institute%29.
  7. Christensen, Penelope. "England Examples of Quarter Sessions Cases Taxation, Theft, Trade Regulations (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Examples_of_Quarter_Sessions_Cases_Taxation,_Theft,_Trade_Regulations_%28National_Institute%29.