Records of crime and punishment
Quarter Sessions records
The office of Justice of the Peace came into being during the 13th and 14th centuries. The Justices met together at the General Sessions of the Peace which were held four times a year – hence the name Quarter Sessions.
The judicial powers of Quarter Sessions were very wide indeed, and extended to trying and punishing all felonies and trespasses whatsoever, to arresting on suspicion, and taking sureties for good behaviour. The Quarter Sessions also had responsibilities towards the Gaol and House of Correction. Quarter Sessions continued to sit as a criminal court until the Courts Act, 1971, amalgamated its jurisdiction with that of the Assize Courts to form a network of Crown Courts, presided over by circuit judges.
More information about the Quarter Sessions is on our online catalogue.
The most useful records for crime and punishment are in section QS and these include the Quarter Sessions rolls which are the papers generated by each sitting of the court. There are printed lists and partial abstracts of the Sessions Rolls from 1696-1830. A personal name and place name index to the Sessions Rolls, 1831-1900, prepared by the Shropshire Family History Society is on CD Rom and in printed volumes. There are also Quarter Sessions Order Books calendared in printed volumes from 1638-1889 and Calendars of Prisoners showing those in gaol awaiting sentencing.
The following boroughs also held their own Quarter Sessions, although survival of records is patchy.
- Much Wenlock
- Oswestry (records held at Oswestry Town Council)
- Bishop’s Castle (records held at Bishop’s Castle Heritage Resource Centre)
You’ll need to book space in the search room to view any of these records.
Petty Sessions (later Magistrates Courts)
Petty Sessions began in the 18th century as extra meetings to lessen the burden on Justices of the Peace in Quarter Sessions. Shropshire was subdivided into different divisions. Petty Sessions were held more regularly than the Quarter Sessions and dealt mainly with minor cases such as drunkenness, assaults, larceny, trespassing, fraud and ale licensing. Juvenile cases and adoption cases were also heard. They required the presence of two Justices of the Peace but no jury.
A full list of Petty Sessions records up to 1974 is on our online catalogue.
County Court Records (Civil Courts)
County courts, dealing with civil cases, were created under the County Courts Act 1846. They dealt with cases for the recovery of small debts concerning contracts, trusts, probate and property.
Very few county court records are deposited at Shropshire Archives. There is a printed list of our holdings.
Peel’s County Police Act of 1839, although adoptive, was put into immediate effect in Shropshire. A force was formed for Shropshire, and there were also separate forces for Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Much Wenlock and Oswestry.
D J Elliott’s records cards 9380 are the best point of access for those researching policemen. They are arranged by force and then alphabetically.
Please also check our detailed guide to police records.
Shrewsbury Gaol Prisoner Records
We hold very few records relating to prisoners held at Shrewsbury Gaol. There are nominal registers of male prisoners from 1909-1916 and female prisoners from 1905-1921 ref 6405. However there are records of the prison administration including plans, reports, rules and regulations in The Quarter Session Records.
You can search census records for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 online. If you find a prison in the census, it will list the names of prisoners present at the time the census was taken.
Usually a coroner signs death certificates if the death is caused by:
· An accident or injury.
· An industrial disease.
· During a surgical operation.
· Before recovery from an anaesthetic.
· If the cause of death is unknown.
· The death was sudden and unexplained, for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death).
From 1752 – 1860, coroners were required to file their inquests at the court of the Quarter Sessions and some session rolls will contain evidence of this. Survival of inquests for the Borough Quarter Sessions is patchy. Later inquests are filed separately.
To access a coroner’s record dated within the last 75 years you must apply to the coroner.
Most older coroners’ inquests don’t give a lot of information and you can sometimes find out more from the report in the local newspaper.
Finding and viewing records at Shropshire Archives
You can view these records in our searchroom. No digital images of these records are available online.
There are access restrictions on some of these records due to personal and sensitive information they contain. See our access page for further details.
Find out more
The Victoria County History of Shropshire Vol III gives more information about the changes to crime and punishment in the county.
Visit our printable short guides page for a guide to criminal ancestors.
We also have a document pack with examples of sources for the study of crime and punishment on the open shelves in our Reading Room.
Information in other places
The National Archives holds records of the Assize Court. Shropshire was part of the Oxford Circuit. They have also produced lots of guidance on court records.
The Ancestry website has digitised copies of registers of prisoners, 1891-1892 which state where prisoners were tried.
The Prison History website created by historians in the Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice at The Open University includes information about 19th century prisons and lock-ups nationally.