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Quarter Sessions Rolls

Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls

The Quarter Sessions Rolls are reference QSR.


The Quarter Sessions Rolls include four types of documents relating to criminal cases which were filed together in rolled files known as ‘sessions rolls’, which have, in the case of Bedfordshire, been bound into and somewhat unwieldy volumes which we are gradually repackaging.


The first two types of documents are indictments and presentments:



In the fourteenth century the word indictment was a technical expression for a written accusation which was not an appeal by an individual but the outcome of a solemn enquiry into the committing of offences. The indictment became the usual way of beginning criminal proceedings. In the case of misdemeanours tried at Quarter Sessions this could be the criminal information laid by a single individual rather than a presenting jury. Informations by private persons were encouraged by legislation, from the mid fifteenth century onwards, as a means of suppressing economic offences, with the informer being allowed a share of the penalty fine imposed on the criminal. Unfortunately this encouraged a breed known as 'common informers' who made a living by prying and accepting such awards. Indictments are written in Latin up to 1733, after which they may be written in English or Latin.

Those against whom a bill of indictment (that is, a formal criminal charge) had been made were first placed before a grand jury, whose function was to hear evidence for the Crown. If it was decided that there was a case to be answered by the accused, the indictment was declared to be a ‘true bill’ (billa vera); if not it was ‘no bill’ (ignoramus)[meaning we do not know]. In the former case, the accused then went forward to a full trial. The grand jury procedure was abolished in 1933.


Some or all of the presentments may be written in Latin. They are written in the form in which the jury would read them out, much of it in Latin. Constables presentments, written on scraps of paper were a presentment of a particular offence in a particular parish, usually concerned with deficiencies in rent collection or bastardy, which were presented to the Head Constable. If a parish constable had no presentment to make he reported 'omnia bene' [all is well].

Example presentments:

 Ref. QSR3 1729 [136]

The Presentment of the Constables of Pulloxhill Jan 6th 1728. We present John Rainsden for keeping an unlicensed alehouse in the parish of Pulloxhill and to the rest of our articles to the rest of our articles omnia bene. Richard Carter, Constable

Ref. QSR3 1731 [112]:

Presentment of the Constables of the Parish of Ampthill in the Hundred of Redbournestoke in the County of Bedford made this 12th day of July 1731 at Petty sessions kept for the said hundred.

We have had no bloodshed, outcryes nor affrayes, we have executed all warrants to us directed. We have no unlicensed or disorderly alehouses kept in our said parish, nor destroyers of game contrary to law therein, and as to all other articles contained in our oath we present omnia bene. William Wildman, Constable.

Other Quarter Sessions documents used in criminal cases are recognizances and depositions