London Metropolitan Archives - Item Details


Date of Creation:


Reference Code:


Scope and Content:
  • Records of the Clerk of the Peace for the Middlesex Quarter Sessions of the Peace, 1751-1965. The records include: accounts of Clerks fees (MC/F); registration of documents (MC/R); records of special sessions (MC/X); taxation of lawyers fees (MC/T); Home Office returns (MC/HO); standing orders (MC/SO); papers of the Rotation Committee (MC/SJ); personal papers of Richard Nicholson, a Nineteenth Century Clerk (MC/Z); and correspondence and papers of the Accounts Committee (MC/C). Some of the material is uncatalogued.
Extent: 7.2 linear metres
Classification: COURTS: SESSIONS
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:

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Administrative History:
  • The office of Justice of the Peace dates from the Fourteenth Century (MJ), 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 dependence of the Justices on officials like the Sheriff, the constables and the Clerk of the Peace to help them carry out their functions (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, committees for specific purposes, and the carrying out of many routine tasks by small groups of Justices sitting outside the court sessions (see MSJ).

    The Custos Rotolorum (Keeper of the Records) was officially responsible for the care of the county records. He was a leading Justice, unpaid, held the post for life, and (since the Seventeenth Century) was usually also the county's Lord Lieutenant. However, in practice it was his Deputy, the Clerk of the Peace who arranged for the records' registration and deposit.

    The office of Clerk of the Peace was as old as that of the Justices - a statute of 1361 stated that a clerk was to "assist the justices assembled in Quarter Sessions in drawing indictments, arraigning prisoners, joining issue for the Crown, entering their judgements, awarding their process and marking up and keeping their records". His duties were always wide ranging - serving the Justices in their administrative and judicial work - both areas produced records that needed to be prepared and filed. Hence many of the records ended up being stored together simply because the same man was dealing with all of them.

    Alongside the aforementioned functions of Quarter Sessions was its role (from the Sixteenth Century) as the place for the registration and deposit of official non-sessions records which needed to be certified and available for inspection (see MR) - again, the work of the Clerk of the Peace. He also acted as clerk to the many committees set up by the Justices, was Clerk to the Lieutenancy (see L), and (as a trained attorney) advised the court on law, procedure and rules of evidence when called upon to do so. Such a workload meant that in practice he delegated much to the deputy he was allowed to appoint.

    The Justices probably used their own clerks on occasions, particularly for the various petty sessions that began to take place. The Custos Rotolorum appointed the Clerk (until 1888, when the responsibility passed to the new county councils). By an Act of 1545 qualification was introduced as to who was suitable - "a sufficient person residing within the county and an able person, learned and instructed in the laws of the realm", and he was in practice a local practising lawyer. With his own strong room or safe box he would have kept some records outside of the court building, and hence one reason why a lot of county and Quarter Sessions records have ended up in private collections or even been lost altogether. The Clerk held the post for life, and received a small official salary of two shillings a day for his attendance at the sessions. He could also claim fees from individuals for work carried out on their behalf within the sessions (his main remuneration), and money from court funds for each action carried out in his official capacity. The post was abolished in 1972.
Creator: Middlesex Quarter Sessions of the Peace
Copyright: Corporation of London
Source of Acquisition:
  • The records passed to the Middlesex County Council, and thence to the LMA.
Access Restrictions: These records are open to public inspection although material containing personal information may be subject to closure periods
Physical Condition: Fit
Arrangement: The material is arranged in nine classes:
MC/F: Fees and Accounts (1780 - 1864);
MC/R: Registration of Documents (1788 - 1966);
MC/X: Records of Special Sessions (1781 - 1893);
MC/T: Taxation of Lawyers Fees (1845 - 1889);
MC/HO: Home Office Returns (1801 - 1889);
MC/SO: Standing Orders (1766 - 1965);
MC/SJ: Rotation Committee (1763 - 1764);
MC/Z: Richard Nicholson's Papers (1843 - 1847);
MC/C: Correspondence (1836 - 1923)
Related Material: For other records of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions see MA (County Administration); 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 Notes:


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).