Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Accused

If an ancestor appears as the accused in the QSR, you are likely to find a number of documents linked to the case:

Recognizances – these detail the prosecutor in the case and those called to give evidence. Each witness is bound financially to appear, or on occasion by the threat of imprisonment.

Depositions – testimonies of the accuser and witnesses taken before magistrates prior to the crime being indicted. Most cases also feature a Statement by the accused, although it was not uncommon for there to be no comment made.

Indictments - showing the offence, the plea and the verdict. Along side these may sit documents detailing Previous Convictions.

Most quarters also feature a Calender of Prisoners. These detail: When received into gaol, degree of education, prisoner's name, age and trade, and details of the charge against them.

Finally, there is usually a Return of Persons Commited. This shows: Names of the accused, the offence, whether convicted, acquitted or discharged, and the sentence.

Friday, 25 November 2011

How are QSR records helpful to the Family Historian?

The QSR are not only useful for finding the criminals in your family. They are rich with other useful details.

For example, you may find an ancestor is a victim of crime. In most cases, the victim then becomes the prosecutor. This means there will be a Recognizance for them. This will tell you their name, job and where they live. If the case proceeds, there will be a Deposition (Witness Statement) for victim. This will give richer details of the events which lead up to and what occurred during the crime. It may tell you to whom they were married, exactly where they lived, who their neighbours were and details of their life style. For example, did they keep chickens, where did they shop, what time they went to work and how they knew the accused.

There may have been other witnesses to the crime. Again there will be a Recognizance in their name and a Deposition detailing their involvement in the case.

Almost every case has a member of the Police force called as a witness. At the time, police constable looked after a local area, and so the same names arise again and again. Excellent news for anyone with a Police ancestor.

Even the family of the Police Officers crop up from time to time. In the case of Elizabeth Bunnage accused of stealing 18 yards of ribbon and 2 caps (QSR1849/3/5/3). Ellen, the wife of John Keating, the local constable in Luton was called as a witness. The deposition details how Ellen was left in charge of Elizabeth Bunnage. When Elizabeth wanted to use the privy she was accompanied by Ellen Keating, who waited outside. On leaving the privy, Ellen Keating found the prisoner had left a bundle down it, which she had to remove with tongs. Elizabeth Bunnage was found guilty and imprisoned in the House of Correction for 3 calendar months.

Other people frequently called as witnesses were the Innkeeper and Licensed Victuallers of the County. Not only did a number of crimes relate to drunkenness, but the public house was often the home to dodgy dealing and dubious meetings.

On the other side of the court were the Jurors and the Justices of the Peace. The QSR include Jury lists for those called to attend Grand and Petty juries of the Quarter Session. These stated the Name, Occupation and Residence of the juror. On occasion, there are letters sent to the court by local doctors, requesting their patient be excused from service due to various ailments.

The Justices of the Peace were men of prominent standing in the area. On being called to become a Justice of the Peace, they would be required to make oaths and declarations that they were for for the role. These documents form part of the QSR.

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.

Welcome to Paths to Crime

Thanks to an award from the National Cataloguing Grant Programme for Archives and donations from the Bedfordshire Family History Society, present and former High Sheriffs of Bedfordshire, and the Rotary Club of Sandy, the Quarter Session Rolls for Bedfordshire from 1831 to 1900 are now being catalogued.

Work began in March 2011 when a team of volunteers began to sort, flatten, clean and repackage the documents. In July Kathryn and Sharon, two cataloguers paid for by the award, started work on a two year project to add the contents to the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service Online Catalogue where they become instantly available for use by the public. The aim is to produce detailed catalogue entries which include not only summaries of the main points of each case heard at the Quarter Sessions but as much ancillary detail as we can in order to give a real insight into the social and economic history of Victorian Bedfordshire.

Four months in, we are still constantly amazed by the richness of the information contained in the Quarter Sessions Rolls. Working closely with the project we are able to see the way the documents reflect changes in both the procedures of the Quarter Sessions and changes in Victorian England as a whole. This fascinating period in history sees events such as the arrival of the railways, changes to the Poor Law, the agricultural depression of the "hungry forties", the end of transportation overseas, the introduction of Reformatory schools for juvenile offenders, the introduction of County Councils, and the growth of large scale industry. All these are reflected in the documents contained in the Quarter Sessions Rolls. We also see more local events such as the opening of a new House of Correction in Bedford and the visit of Queen Victoria to Woburn Abbey in 1841, and are given a unique perspective on the intimate detail of individual lives

The aim of this blog is to help you to make use of the catalogue and the documents and to fill you in on some of the highlights we come across during the cataloguing of the Quarter Sessions Rolls. We intend to start with a few introductory posts explaining what the Quarter Session Rolls are, how the catalogue is being structured, the type of information it contains, and how it can be used. As the project progresses we will also be sharing some of the fascinating cases and characters we find in the records, and flagging up any interesting changes or topics we encounter. We hope you will enjoy our blog and look forward to hearing your feedback.