Quarter Sessions rolls index
Do you have a criminal ancestor? Or perhaps one who was a judge or a coroner? You can now search the Shropshire Quarter Sessions rolls between 1831 and 1920 on FindMyPast to find out more. The original index was created thanks to years of dedicated work by Shropshire Family History Society volunteers.
What are Quarter Sessions rolls?
General Sessions of the Peace were held four times a year – hence the name Quarter Sessions. Justices met to hear criminal cases and other matters. The Quarter Sessions rolls are the bundles of paper work created by each sitting of the court. The index is a fantastic way to search the rolls for a particular name.
Many documents relate to criminal cases and the powers of the Quarter Sessions were wide ranging. Cases ranged from stealing clothes to manslaughter, from damaging a waggon to assault on a constable. The most serious criminal cases, which involved the death penalty, were left to the Judges of the Assize Courts. The Quarter Sessions court could impose penalties such as imprisonment, hard labour, flogging, fines and transportation. Crimes against personal property were treated particularly harshly.
As well as finding an ancestor accused of a crime within the rolls, you might also find them listed as a judge, juror, witness, constable.
What types of documents are in the rolls?
The rolls contain a number of different types of documents including:
- Lists of names of justices present and other court officials.
- Writs to the sheriff, to summon juries, officers, defendants and others.
- Constables’ presentments, with brief details of an offence in a particular parish.
- Lists of prisoners, often stating the offence and sometimes the sentence.
- Indictments, usually in legal Latin language on parchment. The bill of indictment was a formal criminal charge first placed before a grand jury, whose function was to hear evidence. The indictments are often marked ‘true bill’ which meant there was a case to be answered by the accused or ‘no bill’ .
- Recognizances or bonds to ensure defendants and witnesses appear at the trial and behaved.
- Depositions of witnesses and examinations of the accused. These testimonies and statements can give a lot of additional detailed information about the crime. They aren’t likely to be the actual words used in court but a summary written up by the clerk. They can be several pages.
- Removal Orders for paupers who were to be sent back from their current location to their home parish. The Quarter Sessions also dealt with appeals against poor relief decisions. Read more in our blog.
- Coroners’ inquests post mortem/inquisitions. They often don’t give a lot of information about the cause of death and newspaper reports can be more informative. The Quarter Sessions index lists everyone on the document, but the subject of the inquest should show as occupation as ‘deceased’.
The Quarter Sessions was the main administrative authority for the county (prior to the Act of 1888 which created County Councils) so there are also licences for alehouse keepers, orders to maintain highways or stop up rights of way, certificates for dissenters’ meeting houses and reports of inspectors of weights and measures.
The gallery below gives an indication of what some of the documents look like, although bear in mind that the format and content changes over time. Indictments are likely to be in Latin up to 1733 and recognizances are often parchment.
How do I search the Quarter Sessions rolls?
You can search the index on FindMyPast here: Quarter Sessions rolls index, 1831-1920 The index includes nearly 400,000 names.
Images aren’t shown on www.findmypast but you can order copies via our website:
Be sure to give us the name and full reference of the document. This is both the Archive ref and Entry no as shown in the example below.
It is likely that we will have to photograph the documents and high resolution digital images generally cost £10.
Bear in mind that the index is a blunt tool – it lists everyone on the document. For example, the inquests post mortem will include the names of the coroner and witnesses as well as the deceased person.
What if I can’t find someone?
For searches outside of this timescale, we do have some printed indexes onsite:
- Shropshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, 1696-1820
- Shropshire Quarter Sessions Orders, 1638-1889
Although these concentrate on types of document rather than names.
Please note that the index is for the county Quarter Sessions. Local boroughs held their own Quarter Sessions, although survival of these records is patchier:
- Bishop’s Castle Borough Quarter Sessions ref BC
- Bridgnorth Borough Quarter Sessions ref BB and DA2
- Ludlow Borough Quarter Sessions ref LB and DA3
- Shrewsbury Borough Quarter Sessions ref SB and DA5
- Much Wenlock Borough Quarter Sessions ref WB and DA6
- Oswestry Borough Quarter Sessions, held at Oswestry Town Council ref OTC
How do I find out more?
A good teachers’ guide to the types of documents in the Quarter Sessions rolls, taking Bedford and Luton examples, is on the Victorian Crime and Punishment website
The Victoria County History of Shropshire volume 3 gives an excellent summary of the development of the Quarter Sessions in Shropshire.
The Quarter Sessions catalogue is at https://www.shropshirearchives.org.uk/collections/getrecord/CCA_XQ