Quarter Sessions Minute Books
Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Minute Books
In the first surviving minute book of the quarter sessions in Bedfordshire dates from 1650 to 1660, and includes indictments, informations, subpoenas and licences. It is entirely written in Latin. Until 1798, quarter sessions minutes are unevenly kept. Some volumes are rough books or drafts.
The main series of quarter sessions minute books begins at Michaelmas 1711 and the series runs to 1967. The QSM catalogue has a detailed introduction, which outlines the type of information included in the minute books. This includes the appointments of High Constables and Petty constables. Crime is best studied in QSR where the depositions give more information than the notes included in the minute books. The catalogue also lists the JP’s and Clerks, and index of subjects, places, and names of the JPs and clergy for some volumes. From 1814 [QSM25] to 1840[QSM34] there are indexes within the volume.
The minutes include indictments, verdicts on cases and sentences, and notes of whether those called to do so appeared before the magistrates.
The changes in sentencing and types of crime are notable over the years.
From 1711 – 1798 the most frequent cases are assault and theft. There are also cases of vandalism, fraud, breach of licensing laws, poaching. Sentences include whipping, initially always in public, then in the House of Correction or Gaol.
In 1745 the minute record the following:
Ref. QSM 9 page 2:
'Henry Branklin was indicted for felony in stealing five hens, one goose, and one turkey of the value of 10d, the goods and chatels of Sir Rowland Alston, Baronet.
Bill found….Guilty by plea.
Judgement to be publicly whipped at Market Cross next Saturday till his body is bloody and to be discharged upon paying his fines.'
There are also references to conditions at the Gaol and the House of Correction [also known as the Bridewell]. There are references to smallpox outbreaks, repair etc, also found in QSR.
From 1799 – 1820 references to crime in the minute books become less detailed, with terms such as misdemeanour and felony becoming commonplace. Assault continues at the same level and the number of thefts increases, perhaps reflecting the economic conditions. The building of the new Gaol is mentioned in volumes 18 – 20 and the sale of the old one in Vol.21.