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.

Some of the printed editions are available online at the Internet Archive or elsewhere, and when I have found an online version I have added a link to it. I have not yet checked the Hathi Trust Digital Library but it too has online versions of some of these publications. The printed items in the list are drawn mostly from the Bibliography of British and Irish History. They range from full, precise transcriptions to highly selective abstracts, so use with caution.

In addition, I recommend exploring the online catalogues of England’s county archives, which hold virtually all quarter sessions records. Much of their catalogue data is searchable via The National Archives Discovery portal. These catalogues sometimes include detailed abstracts and occasionally even selected transcriptions such as with the Essex Record Office. In some cases, the archives have populated their catalogues using the printed editions above, so there may be duplication.

The list below is undoubtedly incomplete, so please add a comment if you are aware of additional quarter sessions records that could be included.

[Post-script: Thanks to Taylor Aucoin for the suggestions for Beds, Durham, Glos, Notts, Sussex, and West Riding. For suggestions of related material see the comments from Georges Lamoine and Taylor Aucoin below this post.]


Bedfordshire

William J. Hardy and William Page (eds), Bedfordshire County Records, vols. I-II, Bedford, 1907-09. [vol. 1 (rolls, 1714-1832) and vol. 2 (minute books, 1651-60) on Internet Archive]

Buckinghamshire

William Le Hardy, County of Buckingham. Calendar to the Sessions Records. 8 vols. Aylesbury, 1933-80 [1678-1733 on Buckinghamshire Record Society]

Cheshire

Sharon Howard (ed.), Petitions to the Cheshire Quarter Sessions, 1573-1798, on British History Online (2019)

H. E. Bennett and J. C. Dewhurst, Quarter Sessions records, with other records of the justices of the peace for the County Palatine of Chester, 1559-1760, Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 94 (1940). [Vol. 1 pdf on the RSLC site]

Two pages from the edition of Cheshire quarter sessions records listed above, pp. 46-47.

Derbyshire

J.C. Cox, Three centuries of Derbyshire annals, as illustrated by the records of the quarter sessions of the county Derby, from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Victoria. 2 vols. (1890). [Volume 1 and Volume 2 on Internet Archive]

Brodie Waddell (ed.), Petitions to the Derbyshire Quarter Sessions, 1632-1770, on British History Online (2019)

Devon

Charmian Mansell and Mark Hailwood, editors. Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700, University of Exeter, http://humanities-research.exeter.ac.uk/womenswork/courtdepositions.

Dorset

Terry Hearing and Sarah Bridges, Dorset quarter sessions order book 1625-1638: a calendar, Dorset Record Society, 14 (Dorchester: Dorset Record Society, 2006).

Dorset, England, Quarter Sessions Order Books, 1625-1905 [Ancestry, subscription only]

The case book of Sir Francis Ashley, JP, Recorder of Dorchester, 1614-1635, edited by J. H. Bettey (Dorset Record Society, Vol 7, 1981).

Durham

Durham Quarter Sessions Rolls, 1471-1625, edited and calendared by C.M.Fraser; with an introduction by Kenneth Emsley (1991)

The Justicing Notebook (1750–64) of Edmund Tew, Rector of Boldon, ed. Gwenda Morgan and Peter Rushton (Woodbridge [England]: Boydell Press for the Surtees Society, 2000).

Essex

H. Allen, Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book, 1652-1661, Essex Edited Texts, 1 (Chelmsford, Essex: 1974). [full volume on Internet Archive]

James A. Sharpe (ed.), William Holcroft His Booke: Local office-holding in late Stuart Essex (Essex Record Office 1986)

Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions Archives, 1660-1889, and other Official Records: A Descriptive Catalogue, ed. I. E. Gray and A. T. Gaydon, 1958 (Glos. C. C.)

Hertfordshire

Hertford County Records. Hertford: C. E. Longmore, Clerk of the Peace Office, 1905-1939. v. 1-3. Notes and extracts from the sessions rolls, 1581-1894; v. 4. Notes and extracts from the session records of the liberty of St. Alban division, 1770 to 1840; with addenda, 1758 to 1798; v. 5-7. Calendar to the sessions books, sessions minute books, and other sessions records, 1619-; v. 8. Calendar to the sessions books, sessions minute books and other sessions records with appendixes 1752 to 1799; v. 9. Calendar to the sessions books and other sessions records with appendixes, 1799 to 1833. [various volumes on Internet Archive]

David Dean, St. Albans Quarter Sessions rolls, 1784-1820: a calendar of rolls of the General Court of Quarter Sessions for the borough of St. Albans, Hertfordshire Record Publications, 7 ([Hitchin]: Hertfordshire Record Society, 1991).

Kent

Louis A. Knafla, Kent at law, 1602: the county jurisdiction: assizes and sessions of the peace (London: HMSO, 1994).

C. Read, ed., William Lambarde and Local Government (Ithaca, NY, 1962). [1580-1588 on Internet Archive]

Lancashire

James Tait, Lancashire quarter sessions records. Vol. 1: 1590-1606, Chetham Society, Remains … connected with the Palatine counties of Lancaster and Chester, ns, 77 (1917). [1590-1606, Internet Archive]

Lancashire, England, Quarter Session Records and Petitions, 1648-1908 (Ancestry, subscription only)

Manchester Sessions. Notes of Proceedings before Oswald Mosley (1616-1630), Nicholas Mosley (1661-1672), and Sir Oswald Mosely (1731-1739) and Other Magistrates. Vol. I 1616-1622/3, ed. Ernest Axon (Record Society for the Publication of Original Documents relating to Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. XLII, 1901). [Internet Archive. No other volumes were published, though Manchester Library holds the remainder of the transcript].

Lincolnshire

A. Peyton, Minutes of proceedings in quarter sessions held for the parts of Kesteven in Co. Lincoln. 1 vol. in 2., Lincoln Record Society, 25-26 (1931). [Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 on Internet Archive]

London and Middlesex

City of London, Westminster and Middlesex: Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Sharon Howard and Jamie McLaughlin, et al., London Lives, 1690-1800 (www.londonlives.org, version 1.1, 24 April 2012).

Middlesex: William Le Hardy, County of Middlesex: Calendar to the Sessions records, ns, [vol.] 1 : 1612-1614; [vol.] 2 : 1614-1615; [vol.] 3 : 1615-1616; [vol.] 4 : 1616-1618 (1935-41). [Calendar to the Sessions Records, 1612-1618, British History Online]

John Cordy Jeaffreson, Middlesex county records: indictments, recognizances, coroners’ inquisitions post mortem, Middlesex County Record Society, 4 vols. (London: Middlesex County Records Soc., 1886-92). [County Records, 1550-1709, British History Online]

Brodie Waddell (ed.), Petitions to the Westminster Quarter Sessions, 1620-1799, on British History Online (2019)

Henry Norris, Justice in eighteenth century Hackney: the justicing notebook of Henry Norris and the Hackney petty sessions book, London Record Society, 28 (London: London Record Society, 1991).

Northamptonshire

Joan Wake, Quarter sessions records of the county of Northampton: files for 1630, 1657, 1657-8. Intr. S.A. Peyton, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1 (1924).

Norfolk

E. H. James, Norfolk quarter sessions order book, 1650-7, Norfolk Record Society, 26 ([Norwich]: Norfolk Record Society, 1955).

‘Supplementary Stiffkey Papers’, ed. F. W. Brooks (Camden Third Series, Volume 52 – July 1936). [Sir Nathaniel Bacon JP notebook, 1584-1591]

J. M. Rosenheim (ed.), The notebook of Robert Doughty, 1662–1665 (Norfolk Record Soc., 54, 1989).

Nottinghamshire

H. Hampton Compnall (ed.), Nottinghamshire county records; notes and extracts from the Nottinghamshire county records of the 17th century (1915) [transcribed on Nottinghamshire History]

Oxfordshire

Robin Blades and Alan Crossley, Oxford quarter sessions order book, 1614-1637, Oxford Historical Society, ns, 29 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press/Oxford Historical Society, 2009).

Shropshire

Lancelot J. Lee, A Full List and Partial Abstract of the Contents of the Quarter Sessions Rolls, 1696-1800. Shropshire County Records, n.d. [on Internet Archive]

Somerset

H. Bates Harbin and M. C. B. Dawes, Quarter sessions records for Somerset. 4 vols., Somerset Record Society, 23, 24, 28, 34 (1907-19). [1607-1625 and 1625-39 on Internet Archive]

Charmian Mansell and Mark Hailwood, editors. Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700, University of Exeter, http://humanities-research.exeter.ac.uk/womenswork/courtdepositions.

Staffordshire

Brodie Waddell (ed.), Petitions to the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions, 1589-1799, on British History Online (2019)

Sambrooke Arthur Higgins Burne, The Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, vol. 1: 1581-1589; vol. 2: 1590-1593; vol. 3: 1594-1597; vol. 4: 1598-1602; vol. 5: 1603-1606, Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 5 vols. (Stafford: 1931-40 for 1929-40).

H. G. Salt, Staffordshire quarter sessions rolls, Easter 1608-Trinity 1609, Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Kendal: 1950 for 1948-9).

Surrey

L. Powell and Charles Hilary Jenkinson, Surrey Quarter Sessions records. Order book and sessions rolls, 1659-1661, Surrey Record Society, 13 – Surrey County Council, Records and Ancient Monuments Committee, 6 (1934)

Charles Hilary Jenkinson and Dorothy L. Powell, Surrey Quarter Sessions records. Order book and sessions rolls, 1661-1663, Surrey Record Society, 14 – Surrey County Council, Records and Ancient Monuments Committee, 7 (1935).

L. Powell and Charles Hilary Jenkinson, Surrey Quarter Sessions records. The Order Books and the Sessions rolls. Easter 1663-Epiphany 1666, Surrey Record Society, 16 – Surrey County Council, Records and Ancient Monuments Committee, 8 ([1939]).

Dorothy L. Powell, Surrey Quarter Sessions records: order book and and sessions rolls 1666-1668, Surrey County Council, Records and Ancient Monuments Committee, 9 (Kingston-on-Thames: Surrey County Council, 1951).

Granville Leveson-Gower, ‘Note Book of a Surrey Justice’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 9 (1888), pp. 161-232 [Bostock Fuller, 1608-1622, on Surrey Archaeological Data Service]

Deposition Book of Richard Wyatt, JP, 1767–76, ed. Elizabeth Silverthorne (Surrey Record Society: Castle Arch, Surrey, 1978).

Sussex

Quarter Sessions Order Book, 1642-1649, ed. by Brian C. Redwood, 1954 (vol. 54, Sussex Record Society)

Warwickshire

C. Ratcliff and H. C. Johnson, Warwick county records, 1: Quarter Sessions order book, Easter 1625 to Trinity 1637. With a foreword by Lord Hanworth; 2: Quarter Sessions order book, Michaelmas 1637 to Epiphany 1650. With a foreword by Sir William Francis Stratford Dugdale; 3: Quarter Sessions order book, Easter 1650 to Epiphany 1657. With a foreword by Sir Archibald Flower; 4: Quarter Sessions order book, Easter 1657 to Epiphany 1665; 5: Orders made at Quarter Sessions, Easter 1665 to Epiphany 1674; 6 : Quarter Sessions indictment book, Easter 1631 to Epiphany 1674. With a foreword by the Rt. Hon. the Lord Ilkeston; 7: Quarter Sessions Records, Easter 1674 to Easter 1682; 8: Quarter Sessions Records, Trinity 1682 to Epiphany 1690; with a supplement to the introduction, Warwickshire Nonconformist and Quaker meetings and meeting houses, 1660-1750, by J.H. Hodson; 9: Quarter Sessions, Easter 1690 to Michaelmas 1696, Warwickshire County Council Records Committee Pubn. (Warwick: 1935-64).

Levi Fox, Coventry constables’ presentments 1629-1742, Dugdale Society, Publications, 34 (Stratford: 1986).

Wiltshire

B. H. Cunnington, Records of the county of Wilts.: being extracts from the quarter sessions great rolls of the seventeenth century (Devizes: 1932).

C. Johnson, Wiltshire county records: minutes of proceedings in sessions, 1563 and 1574 to 1592, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Records Branch, 4 (Devizes: 1949 for 1948).

Ivor Slocombe, Wiltshire quarter sessions order book 1642-1654, Wiltshire Record Society, 67 (Chippenham: Wiltshire Record Society, 2014).

Charmian Mansell and Mark Hailwood, editors. Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700, University of Exeter, http://humanities-research.exeter.ac.uk/womenswork/courtdepositions.

Worcestershire

Brodie Waddell (ed.), Petitions to the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions, 1592-1797, on British History Online (2019)

J.W. Willis Bund, Calendar of the Quarter Sessions Papers. Worchester, Printed by E. Baylis and Son, 1899-1900. [1591-1643 on Internet Archive]

J.W. Willis Bund, Calendar of the Sessions Rolls. Worchester, Printed by E. Baylis and Son, 1899-1900. [1591-1619 on Internet Archive]

Yorkshire

C. Atkinson, [North Riding] quarter sessions records, North Riding Record Society, 1-9, 9 vols. (1884-92). [various volumes on Internet Archive]

F. Barber, ‘West Riding Sessions Rolls’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 5 (1879), pp. 362-405. [including orders, 1638-40 on Internet Archive]

John Lister, ed. West Riding Sessions rolls, 1597-1602 (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record series, III, 1888) [vol on Internet Archive]

John Lister, ed. West Riding Sessions rolls, 1611-42 (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record series, LIV, 1915) [vol on Internet Archive]

7 thoughts on “England’s Quarter Sessions Records Online and in Print

  1. Dear Colleague,
    Thank you for this extremely valuable information. May I point out that I published Q.S. from Bristol archives, Bristol Gaol Delivery Fiats 1740-1799, Bristol record Society, vol XL, 1999.
    It might be of interest to quote my edition of Charges to the Grand Jury, 1689-1803, London, R. Hist. Society, 1992, in connection with the Q.S. above quoted.

  2. Thanks, Brodie! Amazing resource. If it’s a help, I can add some references to the list from my working bibliography. Some of the citations are a bit rough and ready but should do the trick. There’s also JP notebooks, which I don’t know if you’d like to include here as overlapping, semi-official QS material.

    General Guides and Bibliographies:

    County records: (quarter sessions, petty sessions, Clerk of the Peace and Lieutenancy) by F.G. Emmison and Irvine Gray; re-designed by Colin Barker.

    Quarter sessions records for family historians : a select list / compiled by J.S.W. Gibson [very useful guide with county-by-county references to published and archival material]

    County calendars/transcriptions [many of these will be on archive.org but I haven’t gone through and checked]:

    Bedfordshire County Records, vols. I-II, ed. Hardy and Page (1907-09)

    Durham Quarter Sessions Rolls, 1471-1625 edited and calendared by C.M.Fraser; with an introduction by Kenneth Emsley (1991).

    Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions Archives, 1660-1889, & other Official Records, ed. I. E. Gray and A. T. Gaydon, 1958 (Glos. C. C.)

    Nottinghamshire County Records: Notes and Extracts, 17th Century, ed. H. H. Copnall (1915).

    Quarter Sessions Order Book, 1642-49, ed. B. C. Redwood (County Councils of East and West Sussex; 1954).

    F. Barber, ‘West Riding Sessions Rolls’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 5 (1879), pp. 362-405. https://archive.org/details/YAJ005/page/362

    John Lister, ed West Riding Sessions rolls, 1597-1602 (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record series, III, 1888) https://archive.org/details/recordseries03york/page/n3

    John Lister, ed West Riding Sessions rolls, 1611-42 (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record series, LIV, 1915) https://archive.org/details/YASRS054/page/n7

    • Thanks immensely, Taylor! I’ve added the editions to the main list. I think JPs notebooks would make sense as a further addition if you have suggestions. I’d already included Henry Norris’s for Hackney, but would be happy to add more.

      • Sure thing! I’m pasting the published JP notebooks I know of below. There’s also the records of borough courts, which were technically Sessions of the Peace. Don’t know if you want to open that can of worms, but I’ve pasted in just a few of those as well. I haven’t made a systematic effort to compile borough QS yet, so there’s no doubt many more.

        Justice of the Peace Notebooks:

        Dorset

        The case book of Sir Francis Ashley, JP, Recorder of Dorchester, 1614-1635 edited by J. H. Bettey.

        Durham

        The Justicing Notebook (1750–64) of Edmund Tew, Rector of Boldon, ed. Gwenda Morgan and Peter Rushton (Woodbridge [England]: Boydell Press for the Surtees Society, 2000).

        Essex

        James A. Sharpe (ed.), William Holcroft His Booke: Local office-holding in late Stuart Essex (Essex Record Office 1986).

        Kent

        C. Read, ed., William Lambarde and Local Government (Ithaca, NY, 1962). [1580-1588] https://archive.org/details/williamlambardel00lamb_0/page/n5/mode/2up

        Lancashire

        Manchester Sessions. Notes of Proceedings before Oswald Mosley (1616-1630), Nicholas Mosley (1661-1672), and Sir Oswald Mosely (1731-1739) and Other Magistrates. Vol. I 1616-1622/3, ed. Ernest Axon, (The Record Society for the Publication of Original Documents relating to Lancashire and Chesire, Vol. XLII, 1901). [No other volumes were published, though Manchester Library holds the remainder of the transcript]. https://archive.org/details/manchestersessi00moslgoog/page/n6/mode/2up

        Norfolk

        Supplementary Stiffkey Papers, ed. F. W. Brooks (Camden Third Series, Volume 52 – July 1936). [Sir Nathaniel Bacon JP notebook, 1584-1591] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/55B21912D610EE9C3D8BD7D857EC9672/S2042171000004817a.pdf/supplementary-stiffkey-papers.pdf

        J. M. Rosenheim (ed.), The notebook of Robert Doughty, 1662–1665 (Norfolk Record Soc., 54, 1989).

        Surrey

        Granville Leveson-Gower, ‘Note Book of a Surrey Justice’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 9 (1888), pp. 161-232 [Bostock Fuller, 1608-1622]

        Click to access archiveDownload

        Deposition Book of Richard Wyatt, JP, 1767–76, ed. Elizabeth Silverthorne (Surrey Record Society: Castle Arch, Surrey, 1978).

        Wiltshire

        The Justicing Notebook of William Hunt, 1744–1749. Edited by Elizabeth Crittall, (Devizes: Wiltshire Record Society Volume XXXVII, 1982).

        Yorkshire West Riding

        G. D. Lumb, ‘Justice’s Note-book of Captain John Pickering’, Publications of the Thoresby Society, vol. 11 (1903), pp. 69-100, and vol. 15 (1905, 1906, 1909), pp. 71-80, 277-295. [1656-1660] https://archive.org/details/publicationstho11socigoog/page/68/mode/2up https://archive.org/details/thoresby002/page/70/mode/2up https://archive.org/details/pt3publications15thor/page/276/mode/2up

        Borough Courts:

        Walter Rye (ed.), Depositions taken before the Mayor and Aldermen of Norwich, 1549-1567 and Extracts from the Court Books of the City of Norwich, 1666-1683 (Norwich,1905).

        Portsmouth Record Series: Borough Sessions Papers, 1653-1688: A Calendar A. J. Wills and M.J. Hoad (eds.) (City of Portsmouth, 1974).

        The book of examinations and depositions before the mayor and justices of Southampton, 1648-1663 ed. Shelia Thomson (Southampton: University Press, 1994).

      • Thanks again, Taylor! I’ve now finally added those to the list because it can’t hurt to have a few more of these mid-level courts – below assizes but above manors – even if they aren’t strictly quarter sessions.

  3. Pingback: England’s Quarter Sessions Records Online and in Print – Archivalia

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