England’s Quarter Sessions Records Online and in Print

Brodie Waddell

If you’re interested in the history of crime, poverty or daily life in England anytime between the late sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century, you will find a huge amount of material in the records of the so-called ‘quarter sessions’. These were quarterly meetings of the Justices of the Peace for each county, where they dealt with a wide variety of criminal, civil and administrative matters. You’ll find in them depositions (witness statements), indictments, petitions, presentments, orders, and much else besides.

The point of this post is not to attempt to provide an introduction to these records. For that read Charmian Mansell and Mark Hailwood’s brief online introduction to the courts, or Henry French’s chapter on ‘Legal and Judicial Sources’, or almost any of the editorial introductions to the volumes below. Instead I’ll simply say that they’re great for anyone doing historical research on this period and, even better, many of them are available in printed editions and/or online. Reading the original manuscripts is very difficult if you don’t already have experience with this, though there are plenty of online palaeography resources that can help. And even if you could read the originals, it might be difficult or impossible to get to the archives where they are stored.

Photograph of a petition about an alehouse in 1610 in the Worcestershire quarter sessions records (left) and transcription of the manuscript (right). Image courtesy of Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, Ref.110 BA1/1/7/84. Transcription from ‘Worcestershire Quarter Sessions: 1610’, in Petitions to the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions, 1592-1797, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/worcs-quarter-sessions/1610.

Therefore, in an attempt to get more people using these wonderful records, I’ve put together a list of places where you can find them. Continue reading