England Petty Session Records
Petty sessions were minor courts presided over by two or more magistrates (JPs) and have been held in some, but not all, counties since Tudor times. They were open courts trying lesser offences and enquiring into (summary trials of) indictable ones, and are now called magistrates courts or police courts.
However in London the Police Courts are called the Metropolitan Courts and deal only with criminal cases, whilst the petty sessions handle administration and other cases (Bird).
Petty crimes included such things as poaching, stealing turnips, cutting wood, neighbourhood disputes, drunkenness, begging, alehouses staying open after hours, evasion of turnpike tolls, apprentices absconding and abandonment of families, workhouse rule infringement, and maintenance of bastards (Cole 1998a).
Since the petty sessions met frequently, perhaps every two weeks, these local matters were dealt with quickly and at the grass-roots level. By the 19th century the numbers of settlement and bastardy cases declined, but more poaching and drunkenness occurred. There were also new cases such as non-attendance at school, and under-age employment, and then bicycles and motoring offences.
|Summons to Appear at Petty Session for Non-Payment of the |
Liberty of St. Peter, York 1834 Film 1545354
To Joseph Scott of the Township of Brotherton in the said Liberty.
We, whose names are hereunto set and seals affixed, two of his
Majesty’s Justices of the Peace in and for the said Liberty, do
hereby summon you personally to appear before us at the Hall of
Pleas in the said Liberty on Saturday the twelfth day of July instant
at the hour of twelve in the forenoon of the same day, to shew
cause why you refuse to pay the sum of Four pounds four shillings
and ninepence duly rated and assessed upon you in the rate or assessment made for the relief of the poor of the said parish for this present year; otherwise we shall proceed as if you had appeared.
Given under our hands and seals the fifth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty four.
[signed] Danson R. Currer
Records were kept by the clerk of the peace but survival of the 17th-18th century ones is not good, but occasionally a journal or private papers of a clerk of the peace or magistrate have survived and can be utilized instead. Petty session minutes are available at county archives and much has been filmed and can be found in the FamilySearch Catalog under COUNTY - PLACE - COURT RECORDS.
Some minutes have been transcribed and published, for example for the Surrey hundreds of Copthorne and Effingham 1784-1793 (Webb 1989), and the Marlborough, Wiltshire petty sessions (Cole 1998a). Indexes are appearing as well, for example for the Sevenoaks, Kent petty sessions 1812-1850.
References[edit | edit source]
- Christensen, Penelope. "England Petty, Borough, and Quarter Sessions (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Petty,_Borough,_and_Quarter_Sessions_%28National_Institute%29.