RepositoryCheshire Record Office
LevelCollection (Fonds)
TitleCheshire Quarter Sessions records
Date16th century-20th century
DescriptionJustices of the Peace Commissions of the Peace 1681-1974 (QJC) Clerk of the Peace Precedent books 17th cent.-c. 1880, standing orders, rules and fees etc 1783-1978 (QCP); lists and registers of magistrates, solicitors and barristers 1846-1969 (QCJ); papers concerning assizes 1832-1942, abolition of Palatine Courts 1807-53, and miscellanea 1765-1941 (QCX) The Court in Session The formal records of quarter sessions were originally kept in two series, the recognisance and order books, 1559-1650, and the indictment and presentment books, 1557-1662. Entries of recognisances, indictments and presentments are usually brief (n ames, pledges, nature of offence) whereas entries are fuller for administrative orders made by the court. These records were maintained as a single series 1660-1818. Subsequently they were again separated as follows - order books 1819-1968, recognisance and indictment books 1819-79 and minute books 1838-88, 1959-70. These sessions books should be used in conjunction with the sessions files and estreat rolls. Sessions files contain a wealth of miscellaneous court papers including writs of summons, recognisances, bills of indictment, presentments, petitions, examinations, depositions, informations, corre- spondence, jury lists and statistics. Estreat rolls are lists of those on whom fines payable to the exchequer were imposed, sometimes with names of pledges and note of offence committed. Recognisance and order books 1559-1650 (QJB 1); indictment and presentment books 1557-1662 (QJB 2); indictment rolls 1568-78 (QJX 2); recognisance, order, indictment and presentment books 1660-1818 (QJB 3) order books 1819-1968 (QJB4); recognisance and indictment books 1819-79 QJB 5); minute books 1838- 88, 1959-70 (QJB 4, 6, 7); sessions files 1571-1947 (QJF); estreat rolls 1559-1924 (QJE); miscellaneous private sessions and other papers 1566-1678 (QJX); insolvent debtors papers 1780-1847 (QJD); transporta- tion orders 1726-1856, death warrants and pardons 1801-52, calendars of prisoners 1892-1963 QAB 5) Administration Finance: county rate assessments 1820-91, payments to militiamen's families 1760-83 (QAA) Committee minutes and papers: finance 1844-89, militia 1854-72, reformatories and industrial schools 1858-1914 (QAM); police 1857-91 (CP, QAM); rating and valuation appeals 1929-5 1, general purposes 1943-71, electoral divisions 1888, disturnpiked roads 1878-88, probation 1939-49, contagious diseases of animals 1869-78 (QAM); licensing 1872-1961 (QAL); miscellaneous committees 1870-1951 (QAM); visiting justices Chester gaol, 1831-1838, 1851-78 (QAB 1,3) and Knutsford gaol 1836-89 (QAB 8) Bridges and roads: contracts, plans and papers for repair and rebuilding of county and hundred bridges 1708- 1881 (QAR: see also sessions books and files (QJB, QJF) County buildings and gaols: Chester Castle and gaol: plans and papers concerning building work by Thomas Harrison and others 1784-1888, minutes 1831-8, 1878-88, rules and miscellanea 1726-1906 (QAB); Knutsford Sessions House and gaol: plans, correspondence and miscellanea 1816-1915 (QAB) County Lunatic Asylum, Upton: minutes 1852-1924 QAX 2); statement of pauper lunatics 1894 (QDLu) General administration: detention homes correspondence 1913-34 (QAX 3); coroners' districts admini- stration 1837-1937 (QAC) Cheshire Constabulary establishment papers etc 1829-56 QCX 6); vagrancy and poor law papers 1701-1832 (QAV, QAX 6); weights and measures appointments and certificates 1800-27 (QAX 7); orders in council constituting polling districts 1837-42 (QAX 5); contagious diseases of animals, papers 1805-94 (QCX); notifications of public works 1844-1908 (QCX); miscellanea (QAX, QCX) Enrolment, registration and deposit Appointments: clerks of the peace 1760, 1781; deputy lieutenants' declarations of property qualifications 1778-1918; militia officers 1778-1814; sheriffs 1834-1972; commissioners of sewers 1793, taxes 1842-6, poor law 1834-46; 'Tyburn tickets' (certificates of exemptions from parochial office) 1788-1813 (QDA); lords lieutenant and court officials 1845-1936; chief constables and deputies 1857-1910 (QAX) Enclosure awards and maps: less than 10% of Cheshire was enclosed by Act of Parliament. Some awards in private collections (indexed); originals and copies listed in quarter sessions series 1767-1898 (QDE) (see MAPS AND PLANS) Religion: subscription to oaths 1673-1817, sacrament certificates 1741-1827, declarations of dissenting ministers 1690-1717, presentments and lists of papists 1723, 1744, registration of nonconformist and Roman Catholic places of worship 1689-1853, registration of papists' estates 1717-88, enrolment of papists' deeds and wills 1715-59 (QDR, Mf96) Parliamentary elections: land tax assessments, demonstrating entitlement to vote, 1778-1832, poll books of disputed elections 1714-1814, registers of parliamentary electors 1832-88 (QDV, Mf 95) Public undertakings: plans and books of reference of public undertakings authorised by Acts of Parliament: canals and navigations 1792-1949, railways 1806-1946, roads 1803-1962, ferries from 1813, water supplies from 1825, gas from 1856, electricity from 1882, bridges from 1824, docks from 1845, tramways from 1870, Mersey tunnel (Birkenhead) from 1925, Manchester Ship Canal from 1882 etc (QDP)(see Maps and Plans); public utility annual accounts (mainly electricity, gas and water companies, but includes eg Mersey Docks and Harbour Board) 1840-1967 (QDU); verdicts in compensation cases for properties required for public works 1834-94 (QDD 5) Navigations: general: registers of vessels used on inland waterways, including canal barges 1795-1812; RiverDee: minutes 1733-45, register of vessels (port of Chester) 1740-69, appointments of supervisors 1744- 1887, maps 1744-1826, miscellanea 1840-1923; River Weaver: minutes 1721-59,1895-1948, accounts 1760-1948 miscellanea 1838-1935 (see also Weaver Navigation); Rivers Mersey and Irwell: appointment of commissioners and miscellanea 1726-1860 (QDN) Turnpike trusts: register of turnpike trusts 1820, annual statements of income and expenditure from individual trusts 1822-86, miscellanea 1839-78 (QDT) Licensed tradesmen: alehouses, and alehousekeepers registers and recognisances 1629-1844, badgers (traders in corn and foodstuffs) register 1759-72, corn dealers declarations 1789-91, gamekeepers registers 1711-1949, gamekeepers certificate books 1785-1807 and certificates and notices 1787-1806 (QDL, Mf 96/5) Societies: freemasons lodge certificates 1799-1894, friendly and building societies rules, bonds and correspondence etc c.1794-1849, savings banks and annuity societies' rules 1818-44, benefit building societies rules and circulars 1856-75, loan societies rules and notices of meetings 1846-81 (QDS) Charities: abstract of returns of Cheshire charities 1787-8, register of memorials of charitable donations 1813-1841, revised draft return 1891 and miscellanea 1734-1896 (QDC)
Administrative HistoryThe court of quarter sessions was the meeting of the justices of the peace for the county held quarterly at Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas. While in the other English counties the office of justice had been in existence since the fourteenth century, it was not until 1536 that Cheshire was statutorily obliged to have justices appointed by the crown in commissions of the peace and to establish courts of quarter sessions. Courts were originally held at Chester, Middlewich, Northwich, Nantwich and Knutsford, but from 1760 the only sessions towns were Chester (Epiphany and Easter) and Knutsford (Midsummer and Michaelmas). Business encompassed three areas: the determining of judicial cases; the administration of local government; and the statutory enrolment and registration of documents not otherwise directly related to the court. Justices were empowered to enforce national political, administrative and religious policy, the criminal law (including preliminary hearings of cases that went to the assize courts), taxation, rating, the poor law, maintenance of gaols, roads and bridges, regulation of wages, prices and alehouses and the hearing of petitions. The distinction between judicial functions and administrative duties can be an artificial one because administration was by judicial process; for example, presentments of the failure by a parish to repair a bridge and of an individual for assault were dealt with by the same process and are found side by side in the recordslisted in the 'court in session' section. Finally, the clerk of the peace was the recipient of an ever-increasing number of documents directed to be deposited by seventeenth- and eighteenth- century statutes, for example land tax assessments, enclosure awards and plans of public undertakings. During the nineteenth century a system of paid officials and delegation to committees evolved, while many administrative functions (eg poor law in 1834) were transferred to other bodies. Finally, the establishment of the county council under the Local Government Act, 1888, left quarter sessions with purely judicial functions. From January 1972, under the Courts Act, 1971, quarter sessions and assizes were replaced by crown courts administered by central government. Some quarter sessions records are to be found with those of the county council (CCH, CCLE, CCP, CCCL). Extracts, mainly from the sessions files (QJF) were published by the Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, volume 94, in Cheshire Quarter Sessions 1559-1760, 1940. A short but comprehensive survey of quarter sessions records is F G Emmison and Irvine Gray, County Records, published by the Historical Association.
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