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Quarter Sessions Minute Books

Reference QSM

The first surviving minute book of the Bedfordshire quarter sessions dates from 1650 to 1660, and includes indictments, informations, subpoenas and licences. It is partly written in Latin. A calendar of this volume was published in 1909 (reference CRPu4/3); the publication includes a useful introduction and index.

The main series of quarter sessions minute books begins at Michaelmas 1711 and the series runs to 1967, but until 1798, quarter sessions minutes are unevenly kept. Some volumes are rough books or drafts.

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, indictments, verdicts on cases and sentences, and notes of whether those called to do so appeared before the magistrates. 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 each volume.

Crime is best studied in the Quarter Sessions rolls where the depositions give more information than the notes included in the minute books, but 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.

There are also references to conditions at the Gaol and the House of Correction [also known as the Bridewell]. References to smallpox outbreaks and repairs are found in the minutes and also in the Quarter Sessions Rolls.

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.