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Top 10 Archives… No.6

  • 22nd November 2011

Number six in our Top 10 most used archive collections are our Quarter Sessions papers.

The Worcestershire Quarter Sessions records date from 1591 and include papers relating to crimes such as adultery, prostitution, bastardy, theft, vagrancy and disorderly behaviour. They were held 4 times a year at Epiphany (January), Easter (March/April), Midsummer (July) and Michaelmas (September). However, the Court was not just about administering justice at a local level. Prior to the creation of the County Councils at the end of the 19th Century the Court dealt with the day-to-day administration of the County which covered business as diverse as the upkeep of roads, licensing alehouses, gaols and Houses of Correction, administering the Poor Law, raising of local militias and their armouries and depots, weights and measures, tax assessments and enclosure awards.

The Session Rolls (Ref: 110) are an assorted collection of papers relating to each case and include Indictments, Recognisances, Grand Jury Presentments, nominations for Constables, lists of Jurors, Poor Law Removal Orders, Examinations, Depositions, Petitions, Licences, Sacrament certificates and Calendars of prisoners (up to 1700).

The Order Books (Ref: 118) record the verdict of the court and provide details of any punishments or sentences passed and the names and ages of the offender with sometimes the nature of the offence. In addition to the judicial business of the court the Order Books also include the Courts administrative business for example the building of a treadmill in the County gaol. The earliest Order Book dates from 1693.

Quarter Session records are often overlooked which is a shame as they can be an illuminating source giving a real insight into people’s everyday lives and the role that the Court played in them. For example Session Rolls often contain statements from prosecutors, defendants and witnesses, examinations of paupers and certificates of good behaviour. All these records can help tell a story with the colourful accounts of episodes in people’s lives depicted in the witness statements which are recorded pretty much as they were spoken at the time. Such personal and often vivid statements contrast sharply with the rather dry official documents that they are often assumed to be.

The Quarter Session Records have been indexed from 1591-1849 bound volumes on shelves at both branches and there is an online index currently from 1850-1852.

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