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Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 MA
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1590-1930
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 48.1 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Middlesex Quarter Sessions of the Peace


Administrative/Biographical history:

The origins of the Justices of the Peace lie in the temporary appointments of 'conservators' or 'keepers' of the peace made at various times of unrest between the late twelfth century and the fourteenth century. In 1361 the 'Custodis Pacis' were merged with the Justices of Labourers, and given the title Justices of the Peace and a commission (see MJP).

The Commission (of the Peace) gave them the power to try offences in their courts of Quarter Sessions, appointed them to conserve the peace within a stated area, and to enquire on the oaths of "good and lawfull men" into "all manner of poisonings, enchantments, forestallings, disturbances, abuses of weights and measures" and many other things, and to "chastise and punish" anyone who had offended against laws made in order to keep the peace.

During the sixteenth century the work of the Quarter Sessions and the justices was extended to include administrative functions for the counties. These were wide ranging and included maintenance of structures such as bridges, gaols and asylums; regulating weights, measures, prices and wages, and, probably one of their biggest tasks, enforcing the Poor Law.

The dependence of the justices on officials like the sheriff, the constables, and the Clerk of the Peace to help them carry out their functions (both judicial and administrative) cannot be underestimated.

As their workload grew, particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more help was needed and there was an increase in the number of officers appointed for specific tasks. Small committees of Justices, appointed by the court, were also set up at this time to deal with much of the regular and routine administrative business. Reports were made to the court and entered in the general Orders of Court minute books (see MJ/O). Another solution for dealing with increased judicial business was (by an Act of Parliament passed in 1819) to allow the justices to divide in order that two courts could sit simultaneously (see MJ/SB/B and MJ/SB/C); and the Middlesex Criminal Justice Act of 1844 decreed that there should be at least two Sessions of the Peace each month, and also that a salaried assistant judge (a barrister of at least ten years experience in the Middlesex Commission) should be appointed.

The bulk of the administrative work was carried out on one specific day during the court's sitting known as the County Day (see MJ/O, MJ/SP and MA). By the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was clear that the Quarter Sessions' structure was unable to cope with the administrative demands on it, and it lost a lot of functions to bodies set up specifically to deal with particular areas - the most important of these was the Poor Law, reformed in 1834.

By the end of the century, when the Local Government Act of 1889 established county councils, the sessions had lost all their administrative functions. The judicial role of the Quarter Sessions continued until 1971, when with the Assize courts they were replaced by the Crown Courts. Alongside the aforementioned functions of the Quarter Sessions, was its role as the place of registration and deposit for official non-sessions records, which needed to be certified and available for inspection (see MR).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions relating to local administration, 1590-1930. The number of series in MA reveals the wide scope of county administration dealt with at the sessions. A lot of the records date from the nineteenth century when there was an increase in central attempts at the regulation of many aspects of everyday life. MA/W deals with silk weavers' wage rates; MA/MW covers the work of Inspectors of Weights and Measures; MA/RS are reports from county committees and officers; MA/MS deal with military carriage rates; MA/S is concerned with the building and maintenance of the county's sessions houses; MA/MD covers the work of Inspectors of Animal Diseases; MA/C covers the work of the sessions' committees; MA/G is concerned with the building and maintenance of the county's prisons; MA/GS, likewise for Feltham Industrial School; MA/DCP are plans of county properties; MA/D and MA/DC contain deeds and contracts for county properties; MA/B are Bridge Committee papers; MA/A is concerned with the building and maintenance of the county's lunatic asylums; and MA/MN deals with military and naval recruitment in the county.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The material is arranged in 15 series -
MA/W: Silk Worker's Wage Rates (1773-1824);
MA/MW: Weights and Measures (1800-1878);
MA/RS: Reports (1824-1890);
MA/MS: Military Carriage Rates (1832-1856);
MA/S: Sessions Houses (1590-1889);
MA/MD: Diseases of Animals (1871-1889);
MA/C: Sessions Committees (1779-1890);
MA/G: Prisons (1722- 1886);
MA/GS: Middlesex Industrial School (1854-1908);
MA/DCP: County Plans (1718-1929);
MA/D: Deeds and Contracts (1661-1930);
MA/DC: Deeds and Contracts (1607-1892);
MA/B: Bridges (1820-1877);
MA/A: Lunatic Asylums (1825-1888);
MA/MN: Naval and Military Recruitment (1795-1801).

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the Corporation of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The records passed to the Middlesex County Council, and thence to the LMA.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For other records of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions see MC (Clerk of the Peace); MF (County Treasurer); MJ (Court in Session); MJP (Justices of the Peace); MR (Enrolment, Registration and Deposit); MSJ (Petty Sessions and Summary jurisdiction) and MXS (Sessions post 1889).

Publication note:


The original Guide to the Middlesex Sessions Records 1549-1889, E.D. Mercer, 1965 (LMA library ref: 60.32GRE), remains a good thorough introduction to the records, although it does omit and confuse some classes of records, and the descriptions and language are occasionally difficult to follow.

Many county record offices have produced guides to their own collections of Quarter Sessions records, and these are useful summaries of the types of record and sessions personnel that researchers will come across. Of particular note are the ones for West Yorkshire - Guide to the Quarter Sessions Records of the West Riding of Yorkshire 1637-1971, B.J. Barber, 1984 (LMA library ref: 60.32 WES); and Leicestershire - Quarter Sessions Records in the Leicestershire Record Office, G. Jones, 1985 (LMA library ref: 60.32 LEI); and the general County Records, F.G. Emmison and I. Gray, 1987 (Historical Association) (LMA library ref: 60.32 EMM).

Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians (Federation of Family History Societies), Jeremy Gibson, 1985 (LMA library ref: 60.32 GIB), lists the existing Quarter Sessions records by county.

A good basic introduction to the processes of the law can be found in Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800, John Beattie, 1986 (LMA library ref: 21.5 BEA).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
November 2009 to February 2010

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