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Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/312
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1684-1899
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 5 production units.
Name of creator(s): London Quarter Sessions of the Peace
Middlesex Quarter Sessions of the Peace


Administrative/Biographical history:

The office of Justice of the Peace dates from the fourteenth century, when their Commission of the Peace gave them the power to enquire into "all manner of poisonings, enchantments, forestallings, disturbances and abuses", try offences in their courts of Quarter Sessions and keep the peace in their locality. During the sixteenth century the work of the Quarter Sessions and the Justices was extended to include administrative functions for the county.

The 'Delivery of the King's Gaol of Newgate holden for the County of Middlesex in Justice Hall, Old Bailey' 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. 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. A sessions house for the City of London was first erected in 1539 next to Newgate Gaol. 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. 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 the Quarter Sessions for London and Middlesex, including certificate of conviction; examination book of vagabonds apprehended in the City of London; Newgate gaol calendars; and petition for victualling licence.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Records arranged by MS number, assigned during cataloguing at the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the City of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, which merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For Newgate gaol delivery sessions at the Old Bailey see OB.

Publication note:

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:
August to October 2010.

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