An Act of 1828 required the Quarter Sessions to define Petty Sessions Districts. Prior to the Act justices in Bedfordshire held unofficial petty sessions to transact minor business such as approving payments to the poor from the accounts of Churchwardens.
The first official Petty Sessions Districts for Bedfordshire were created in 1830.
There were six in all: Ampthill, Bedford (excluding Borough), Biggleswade, Bletsoe, Luton and Woburn. Bedford Borough had its own commission of the peace dating back to 1556, thus was entitled to its own bench of magistrates.
In 1854 a seventh division was created, that of Leighton Buzzard which also took in the parishes of Billington, Eaton Bray, Eggington, Heath & Reach, and Stanbridge. From 1865 when it became a Borough Dunstable was granted its own Petty Sessions, having previously been included with Luton. Bletsoe Petty Sessions division was renamed Sharnbrook in 1872. In 1876 Luton was granted Borough Status and had its own bench of magistrates.
Consequently, by 1876 there were ten benches of Magistrates in Bedfordshire. The County judges comprised seven benches, with Bedford, Dunstable and Luton having their own separate benches.
The Petty Sessions were held fortnightly apart from Luton where they were held on a weekly basis.
The Ampthill Petty Sessions minutes include details of a riot in Millbrook and Lidlington in 1835 [ref.PSA1/1]
The Petty Sessions Archives for each division include some or all of the following types of record:
1) Minute Books
2) Registers of Defendants & Cases
3) Summary Conviction Returns
4) Returns of Convictions
5) Bastardy orders and agreements
6) Monthly returns of fines and penalties
7) Juvenile Court Registers
8) Registers of Licences
9) Registers of Clubs
10) Registers of Explosives
11) Registers of Alehouse Licences
12) Security (Surety) Registers
13) Case Committee Minute Books
14) Probation Officer’s Registers of Offenders (from 1940)
The records are listed in the brown PS catalogue on the searchroom shelf. Obviously as the records run to the 20th Century there are embargoes applied to some classes of these records. These embargoes are listed at the front of each section. The records are also listed on our online database at http://bedsarchivescat.bedford.gov.uk/#Archive under reference PS.
Using the minute books and court registers can be tricky as not all of them are indexed by name of defendant. The level of detail is usually quite brief. If you have a date and place of conviction your best option may be to check the Bedfordshire Times and Bedfordshire Mercury (or later the Ampthill News, Woburn Reporter etc) which will give a few more details of the case.
Petty Sessions Divisions
Whilst the districts are still called Petty Sessional Divisions the courts themselves are now known as Magistrates’ Courts
PSA - Ampthill Petty Sessional Division was created in 1830 and included the parishes of: Ampthill; Clophill; Cranfield; Flitton; Flitwick; Gravenhurst; Haynes; Higham Gobion; Houghton Conquest; Lidlington; Marston Moretaine; Maulden; Millbrook; Pulloxhill; Shillington; Silsoe; Steppingley; Westoning. Between 1875 and about 1896 the Division contained Harlington. On the abolition of Woburn Petty Sessional Division [see PSW] in 1953 the following parishes were added to Ampthill Petty Sessional Division: Eversholt; Hulcote & Salford; Husborne Crawley; Ridgmont; Tingrith. A new court house was built in Ampthill in 1963.
PSB - Bedford Petty Sessional Division The Bedford Division, as opposed to the Bedford Borough Division, dealt with the rural and semi-rural parishes around the town, rather than with the town itself. It originates from 1830. Historically it contained the parishes Great Barford; Little Barford; Biddenham; Bromham; Cardington; Clapham; Cople; Eastcotts; Eaton Socon; Elstow; Kempston; Kempston Rural; Oakley; Ravensden; Renhold; Roxton; Stagsden; Stevington; Turvey; Wilden; Willington; Wilshamstead; Wootton. On the creation of the parish of Stewartby it was included in the Division. In 1964, Sharnbrook Division was abolished and amalgamated with Bedford. The Division was at first called Bedford & Sharnbrook [still included under PSB in this catalogue] but currently  called North Bedfordshire District. In 1964 the parishes Bletsoe; Bolnhurst & Keysoe; Carlton & Chellington; Colmworth; Dean & Shelton; Felmersham; Harrold; Knotting & Souldrop; Little Staughton; Melchbourne & Yielden; Milton Ernest; Odell; Pavenham; Pertenhall; Podington; Riseley; Sharnbrook; Swineshead; Thurleigh; Wymington were added.
PSBB - Borough of Bedford Petty Sessional Division has always dealt exclusively with those cases arising from within the town of Bedford itself, the Bedford Division being concerned with the satellite parishes (including Kempston) and not with the town, hence the separate series of classes.
PSBW - Biggleswade Petty Sessional Division was created in 1830 and historically contained the parishes Arlesey; Astwick; Biggleswade; Blunham; Campton; Chicksands; Clifton; Cockayne Hatley; Dunton; Edworth; Everton; Eyeworth; Henlow; Langford; Meppershall; Mogerhanger; Northill; Potton; Sandy; Shefford; Southill; Upper Stondon; Stotfold; Sutton; Tempsford; Old Warden; Wrestlingworth.
PSD - Dunstable Petty Sessional Division was set up in 1865 as Dunstable Borough Petty Sessions (a proposal for a Dunstable Division having been rejected in 1863) dealing solely with cases arising from within the town itself. Dunstable continued as a Borough sessions until 1949 when it lost its borough status and became an ordinary Petty Sessional Division of the county. On the abolition of the Woburn Division in 1953 certain parishes were transferred to Dunstable Division. At this point the parishes included in the division were Chalgrave; Dunstable; Houghton Regis; Studham; Tilsworth; Totternhoe; Whipsnade.
PSL - Luton Petty Sessional Division. The Luton District is, in fact, two districts. The organisation is similar to Bedford in that there is a district and a town sessions .The distinction was not noted in the original catalogue of Luton material as it had been with the records of the two Bedford divisions - all material being called PSL. This error was not recognised until the present catalogue was nearing completion [Aug 1994]. Thus, in instances where the Office holds material of both Luton Division and Luton Borough Division, the non-borough material is denoted by the suffix A (see PSL 4A and PSL 9A in Summary of Classes). The two divisions were established in 1830, the Luton Division historically contains the parishes Barton; Caddington; East Hyde; Houghton Regis; Leagrave; Limbury; Market Street; Stopsley; Streatley; Studham; Sundon; Tilsworth; Totternhoe; West Hyde and Whipsnade. Tilsworth was transferred to Woburn Division in 1837. On Kensworth becoming part of Bedfordshire it was transferred to Luton Division. In 1953, Houghton Regis, Studham, Totternhoe and Whipsnade were transferred to Dunstable Division. On the abolition of the Woburn Division in that year, Harlington and Toddington were transferred to Luton. Thus in 1953 the Luton Division comprised the parishes: Barton; Caddington; Harlington; Hyde; Kensworth; Streatley & Sharpenhoe; Sundon and Toddington.
PSLB - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division was used as a meeting place for Petty Sessions as early as 1825, the constituent parishes including Woburn, where the majority of meetings seem to have been held. Thus, on the creation of Bedfordshire divisions in 1830, Woburn was made a Petty Sessional Division rather than Leighton Buzzard. In 1854, however, a separate Leighton Buzzard Division was constituted. In 1875 the Police Districts of Leighton Buzzard and Woburn were amalgamated, though the Petty Sessional Divisions remained separate. From the creation of the division the parishes included in it were Billington; Eaton Bray; Eggington; Heath & Reach; Leighton Buzzard and Stanbridge. On the abolition of Woburn Division in 1953, the parishes Aspley Guise; Aspley Heath; Battlesden; Hockliffe; Milton Bryan; Potsgrove and Woburn were transferred to the Leighton Buzzard Division
PSNB - North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Division was formed by the merger of the Bedford and Sharnbrook Divisions in 1964 and was known for some while as Bedford & Sharnbrook Division (for records in this period see PSB). It was later renamed North Bedfordshire Division and has been given a different reference - PSNB - to avoid confusion.
PSS - Sharnbrook Petty Sessional Division was created in 1830 as Bletsoe Petty Sessional Division, changing to Sharnbrook in 1872. Historically the division comprised the parishes Bletsoe; Bolnhurst; Carlton; Chellington; Colmworth; Upper Dean; Lower Dean; Farndish; Felmersham; Harrold; Keysoe; Knotting; Melchbourne; Milton Ernest; Odell; Pavenham; Pertenhall; Podington; Radwell; Riseley; Sharnbrook; Shelton; Souldrop; Little Staughton; Thurleigh; Tilbrook; Wymington and Yielden. Tilbrook was taken out of the division on the parish being transferred to Huntingdonshire and at some point Swineshead was added to the Division. The division was abolished in 1964 and a new division called Bedford & Sharnbrook created (for which see PSB). This Division was ultimately renamed North Bedfordshire Division (see PSNB).
PSW - Woburn Petty Sessional Division was established in 1830, but had been a meeting place for Petty Sessions probably from at least 1825, in conjunction with Leighton Buzzard. Historically the division consisted of Aspley Guise; Battlesden; Chalgrave; Chalton; Eversholt; Harlington; Hockliffe; Holcot; Husborne Crawley; Milton Bryan; Potsgrove; Ridgmont; Salford; Tingrith; Toddington and Woburn. Tilsworth was transferred from Luton Division to Woburn in 1837. The Police Divisions, but not the Petty Sessional Divisions, of Woburn and Leighton Buzzard were amalgamated in 1875. Also in 1875 Harlington was transferred to Ampthill Division, but returned to Woburn by 1903. The abolition of Woburn Division was suggested, but rejected, in 1897. Aspley Heath was added to the Division at some point and Chalton ceased to be an independent parish, being integrated with Toddington. Woburn Division was abolished in 1953, the parishes being transferred to Ampthill, Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Luton as appropriate.
PSWM - A series of Weights & Measures records from all over the county.
PSX - Extra-Divisional Petty Sessions: records that do not arise from one single Division, or pre-date the modern divisions, as established in 1830.