Law and Order
The Archives Service holds many records relating to the justice system; the people who administered it, those who upheld the law and those who broke it.
Our most extensive collections are for the Quarter Sessions and the Petty Sessions courts. Records of the Assizes, where they survive, are generally held by the National Archives, but we do have a collection of documents relating to the Assizes dating from 1653 to 1688. We are the official repository for records of the Magistrates Courts for Bedfordshire, but access to these is highly restricted.
For further details of our collections and to explore what they contain see:
Gaols and Prisons
Over the centuries Bedford has been the location of a number of gaols and houses of correction, housing prisoners from both the town itself and from the wider county. Our collection includes records relating to the gaol buildings, to their administration and maintenance, and to the prisoners themselves. Further information can be found in the pages linked below:
- Bedford Gaol and House of Correction Records - these are held as part of our Quarter Sessions collection under references QGE, QGR and QGV.
- Bedford's Gaol Buildings - sets out the history of the various gaols, prisons and houses of correction in which prisoners were held in Bedford. A map of gaol buildings is also available.
- Bedford Prison - the Prison Act of 1877 removed all County and Borough prisons from local ownership and vested them in central government. Records from this date onwards are held under reference PRIS.
Registers for Bedford Gaol and House of Correction have been transcribed into an online database, which currently coveres 1770-1905, with new records continually being added. Please note that some versions of Internet Explorer will not work with the database and searches will return no results. If this happens please use an alternative browser.
Police and Crime Prevention
Until professional police forces for Bedford and the wider county of Bedfordshire were introduced in 1836 and 1840 respectively, the county relied on parish constables to keep the peace. Between 1790 and 1850 voluntary crime prevention societies gave some additional protection.
The records held by the Archive Service relating to parish constables are patchy, and the amount relating to the Bedfordshire Police varies according to location.