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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 MJP
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1648-1974
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 4.92 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.

The Commission of the Peace gave them the power to try offences in their courts of Quarter Sessions which manorial courts were not able to be deal with (misdemeanours), but which were less serious than those which went to the Assize Judges (felonies). It 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.

Gradually the justices took over the work of the sheriff in the county. During the sixteenth century their powers and duties increased, as the Tudor monarchs found them a cheap and effective way of enforcing their will across the country. Likewise, the new middle classes saw the post as a means to gain local prestige and influence (despite the arduous and costly duties) and there was regular pressure 'from below' to increase numbers in the Commission. Consequently, at this time, the numbers on the commission rose from an average of 8 to around 30 to 40 by the middle of the sixteenth century. Not until the mid-nineteenth century did the post lose its desirability and numbers begin to drop off.

It was a system that recognised local social structures - the natural wish to regulate local law and order, and men wanting to be judged by other local men. The justices have often, aptly, been described as 'the rulers of the county', and the crown had to be careful to choose men whose standing would not turn them into faction leaders. Equally, the justices' unpaid status ensured that the crown could not take advantage of them and act despotically, and they retained some local independence. Justices needed to be of sufficient local status to exercise authority in a judicial and administrative capacity, and to supervise the parish officials who did so much of the actual law enforcement. Men were therefore appointed from the ranks of the local gentry, most without legal training. To some extent their unpaid status excluded men from the lower orders who had to work and earn a wage.

As early as 1439 a statute introduced a property qualification for each prospective justice (see MJP/Q). Many names on the commission were purely honorific, not all of those listed had to attend every court, and in practice only a minority did so. Only those named as being of the quorum (who possessed knowledge of the law) had to appear. The justices were helped in their work by parish and court officials, and most particularly by the Clerk of the Peace who was responsible for the everyday administration of the court as well as maintaining a record of its work (see MR).

During the eighteenth century as the sessions' work increased in amount and variety, committees were set up and officials were appointed for specific tasks. The County Treasurer was one such official, whose post developed from the treasurers appointed to keep the funds for which rates were periodically raised, such as the repair of bridges, maimed soldiers and maintenance of the house of correction. Sometimes one person had control of several funds - in Middlesex for example in 1726, Sir Daniel Dollin was made general treasurer of the County; and in 1731 John Higgs was formally appointed general treasurer to receive funds raised by any public rates, to be paid an annual salary of twenty-five pounds, and to keep an account book for annual audit and storage by the Clerk of the Peace.

The County Rate Act of 1739 directed that one general rate should be levied instead of several, and that it should be paid to the treasurer appointed by the sessions. Under this Act, Westminster had no separate rate from Middlesex, meaning that the latter's county treasurer was responsible for the City's accounts also. Records of the work of these officials may be found not only in the main body of sessions records (see MJ and MR), but also in their own series: MC - Clerk of the Peace; MF - County Treasurer; MS - County Surveyor; TC - records of offices held by county officers outside sessions work.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Justices of the Peace for Middlesex, 1648-1974. MJP/C contains the original Commissions of the Peace and of Oyer and Terminer issued to the Justices of the Peace; MJP/L are lists of the justices in those commissions; MJP/D contains names of justices who had paid subscriptions for dinners held at the Sessions House; MJP/EC concerns the election of a Chairman of the sessions in 1872-1873; MJP/O contains a record of oaths taken by justices upon their appointment to the commission. The series in MJP/Q, MJP/QC and MJP/R are concerned with the qualifications needed by justices in order to be eligible for appointment.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The material is arranged in 8 classes:
Commissions (MJP/C) 1648-1974
Dinner subscriptions (MJP/D) 1775-1889
Election of Chairman (MJP/EC) 1872-1873
Lists of Justices of the Peace (MJP/L) 1714-1915
Oaths on appointment (MJP/O) 1761-1916
Qualification oaths (MJP/Q) 1746-1906
Qualification papers (MJP/QC) 1741-1901
Returns of qualifications (MJP/R) 1827-1888.

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:

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

Allied Materials

Related material:

For other records of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions see MA (County Administration); MC (Clerk of the Peace); MF (County Treasurer); MJ (Court in Session); 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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