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Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 OB
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1754-1887
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 44.65 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Clerk of the Peace | Old Bailey


Administrative/Biographical history:

The records in this class are concerned with the 'Delivery of the King's Gaol of Newgate holden for the County of Middlesex in Justice Hall, Old Bailey'. This was the senior local criminal court for Middlesex and for the City of London; for Middlesex and City it played the role that the Assizes played in the rest of the country.

From the thirteenth century onwards two commissions were given to the Justices of Assize by the crown so that on their twice yearly visits to the several counties that made up their circuits, they could try people suspected of cases normally heard before the sovereign - serious crimes or felonies (from the Latin 'fellens' meaning 'bitter' i.e. a capital crime committed with a 'bitter mind'). These could include piracy, murder, manslaughter, rape, larceny, robbery, burglary, arson, some forms of assault and certain acts resembling treason.

The two commissions were the Commission of Oyer and Terminer (literally 'to hear and determine' a case); and the Commission of Gaol Delivery which empowered the justices to try, and cause the sheriff (as their technical rather than actual keeper) to bring the prisoners before the court, and (if they were acquitted) to thereby deliver (empty) the county gaol of prisoners. Middlesex and London were different from other counties in that the royal courts were already present within it, so the Assize Judges' duties were given to the Justices of the Peace instead.

Furthermore, because Middlesex 'shared' its sheriff with the City of London, the more serious suspects had to be delivered for trial from 'his' care, in 'his' prison (Newgate) to 'his' adjacent sessions house - the Old Bailey. A suspected criminal from Middlesex would therefore have his case examined by a Grand Jury and the justices under the Commission of Oyer and Terminer in the Clerkenwell Sessions House.

If it was agreed that there was a case to answer, the prisoner and his indictment would then be sent for a trial either at their own Sessions of the Peace in Middlesex, or be transferred to Newgate to await a gaol delivery session. In practice there seems not to have been any uniformity of practice in deciding which cases were heard at which sessions - either justices or prisoner would decide.

A few days before the next gaol delivery session the prisoners were taken to Newgate, through Smithfield. From at least the thirteenth century a prison existed on the same site in Newgate Street. Altered and repaired over the centuries, it was burnt down in the Great Fire, and rebuilt in 1672. It was again rebuilt between 1770-1778, and in 1780-1788 following destruction in the Gordon Riots; lasting until 1902 when, after demolition, the Central Criminal Court was built on the site (1907). A sessions house for the City of London was first erected in 1539 next to Newgate Gaol. There is uncertainty as to the origin of its name - Old Bailey, also the name of a nearby street. It may refer to the 'ballium' (outer space beyond the City wall); or have been originally the Bail Hill where the bailiff held his court. A replacement was built in 1774.

Old Bailey sessions usually met eight times a year - and were held for Middlesex, Westminster and City of London prisoners as separate groups within each session, each group generating separate groups of records. The Middlesex sittings had their own juries, and to some extent separate court personnel.

The judges of the court consisted of the Lord Mayor, one or more chief justices from the higher law courts, a Baron of the Exchequer, the City Recorder, several aldermen, and usually some senior Middlesex justices when Middlesex cases were being tried.

Gaol delivery sessions ended in 1834 with the creation of the Central Criminal Court.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Gaol Delivery Sessions for Middlesex prisoners, held at the Old Bailey, 1754-1887. The series OB/C/J is an index of charges (indictments); OB/C/P is a list of prisoners. OB/REB contains lists of fines (estreats) and bonds (recognizances) imposed in court; OB/SB are the minutes, and OB/RSB the rough minutes, of proceedings in court; OB/SP are the loose administrative papers (sessions papers) relating to the business happening in court - exisiting for the years 1755 - 1759, 1761, 1764-1790, 1792, 1796; OB/SR are the sessions rolls, the official documentation of the judicial procedure at the sessions. Some of the sessions papers are uncatalogued at present (Feb 2010).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The material is arranged in 6 classses:
Calendars and indexes (OB/C) 1754-1832;
Court bonds and fines (OB/REB) 1759-1832;
Rough minutes (OB/RSB) 1774-1834;
Sessions books (OB/SB) 1754-1834;
Sessions papers (OB/SP) 1755-1796;
Sessions rolls (OB/SR) 1696-1887.

Conditions governing access:

These records are open to public inspection, although records containing personal information may be subject to closure periods.

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:

From 1754 all records relating to Middlesex prisoners in Newgate for gaol delivery were kept with the Clerk of the Peace at the Old Bailey (albeit separately). They were returned to the Middlesex County Record Office in 1951.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other relevant records for these prisoners may be found in the main body of Sessions records for Middlesex or Westminster (MJ, WJ). Prior to the prisoners' transfer to Newgate - relevant series include the sessions rolls (MJ/SR), the sessions papers (MJ/SP), sessions books (MJ/SB), and calendars of prisoners (MJ/C). Records produced prior to 1754 for these prisoners are in the series MJ/GB.

The records of City prisoners tried during the same sessions are also in the LMA, see CLA/035. The Guildhall Library has a complete set of printed proceedings from the sessions (1744-1913).

Publication note:

The Old Bailey Proceedings: a listing and guide to the Harvester Microfilm Collection, introduction by Dr Michael Harris, 1984, (LMA library ref: 60.32 HAR).

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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