England 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 ($).

Sessions Cases

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


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?


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.


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

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).


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.