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Quarter Sessions Rolls

The Quarter Sessions Rolls are the working documents of the Quarter Sessions court. The documents for each session were filed together (usually threaded onto a string or cord) and rolled up which is why they are known as ‘sessions rolls’.

The earliest roll is for 1714 but many of the early rolls were at some time badly water damaged and survival is patchy.

The rolls offer amongst many things:

  • a name-rich source, important for the family historian
  • a comparative source for researchers of social history
  • quotations of direct speech, providing clues as to dialect and education
  • insight into the lives of people in Bedfordshire, including their public service on juries, or in the militia, or their criminal careers

The Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls are catalogued in two different ways.

The rolls from 1714-1830 were sorted and listed in the early 20th century by record agents. The record agents amalgamated all four quarters for each year, arranged them by document type, gave them running number for the year and listed them briefly without giving the date in full. This makes it difficult to follow a case through the court system. The references for these rolls will generally be QSRYYYY/# e.g. QSR1791/17

In the early 21st century the Paths to Crime project created a catalogue for the 1831-1900 rolls. These rolls were still in their original quarters and the cataloguing reflects this. A consistent scheme was used throughout the period even though not every type of record was in each quarter or year. Where possible the original case numbers were also used so that it is easy to trace all documents for each case within the quarter. This makes the references more complicated but the catalogue is much more thorough and complete. The references for these years will formatted as QSRYYYY/Qtr/doc type/item or case number e.g. QSR1831/1/5/1-3 = year 1831/ Quarter 1 Epiphany/ type of document depositions/ cases 1, 2 and 3 i.e. three defendants accused of the same crime. The recognizances and indictments relating to the same case are QSR1831/3/4/1 and QSR1831/3/6/1-3 respectively.

The same system is used for the rolls from 1900-1947 but these rolls have been heavily weeded and some years have not been kept at all.  

The rolls include paperwork for the working of the court such as writs and sacrament certificates, and for the courts administrative functions such as maintenance of rights of way but for criminal business there are four main types of document:

How to Find a Case in the Quarter Sessions Rolls

To find a case involving an individual in the Quarter Sessions Rolls, try searching our online catalogue by entering QSR in the Reference search field and their name in the Person/Institution search field in the following format: "Smith, John" (surname, comma, space, first name). 

It can also be helpful to search our Gaol Database for either an individual, a particular type of crime or an offender profile by gender or age. The gaol record detail will indicate the type of trial - Quarter Sessions will often be recorded as Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer or Michaelmas followed by the year. Once a case has been identified the references for related documents can then be easily found by searching the online catalogue