England Further Examples of Quarter Sessions Cases (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


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

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.

265658|item|disp=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

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.


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


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.


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.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.