Tuesday, 22 November 2011

What are the Quarter Sessions Rolls?

The Quarter Sessions were locally held courts which met four times a year at Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas. They had responsibilty for both adminstrative and criminal matters.

It was the role of the Quarter Sessions to hear those cases which could not be dealt with summarily by a Justice of the Peace, but were not severe enough to be heard at the Assizes. The Quarter Sessions dealt with crimes such as: robbery, theft of items and animals, breaking and entering, assault, the passing of false coin, embezzlement, indecent assault and attempted rape, and breach of the peace. In addition, until the establishment of elected County Councils following the Local Government Act 1888, a number of significant administrative functions were also the responsibilty of the Quarter Sessions.

The Quarter Sessions Rolls contained all the documents required for each Session. These were secured on a spike as the Session progressed. At the end the documents were tied together and kept as a roll. The majority of the documents relate to the criminal cases heard and divide into three main types: recognizances, depositions or examinations, and indictments. The rolls may also contain documents relating to:
  • Roads, bridges and highways - construction, repair and maintenance or 'stopping up'.
  • Construction and maintenance of buildings such as the county gaol, local lock-ups and the venues for the Quarter Sessions themselves.
  • Swearing in of justices of the peace and other officials
  • Supervision of public and private lunatic asylums
  • Licensing of public houses
  • Poor law - bastardy and removal orders
  • The names of county militia officers, coroners, prison visitors, police and prison employees
  • Places of worship for Dissenters
  • Weights and measures
  • Establishment of corn rents
The Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls (catalogue reference QSR) for 1831 to 1900 were unrolled and stored in boxes many years ago (or in the case of the earlier years, bound volumes), but until now the rolls for these years have been unwieldy to use and had no catalogue or index. By the end of this project all these documents will be readily accessible and stored in a way that will keep them in the best possible condition for the future.

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