Occasional Papers 08     

Guide to the Quarter Session records of the West Riding of Yorkshire 1637-1971 and other official records

by Brian J. Barber


Guide to the Quarter Session records of the West Riding of Yorkshire 1637-1971 and other official recordThe court of quarter sessions created the most important single archive in any county, and the massive quarter sessions records for the West Riding are probably the largest and best preserved of them all. For centuries, and up to as recently as forty years ago, quarter sessions was the major criminal court in the county. Thousands of cases of all kinds were heard there and all the records of them that came into the hands of the court were carefully stored way. And none were deliberately destroyed, as they were in many other counties, although there was some damage through neglect.

So today there are thousands of feet of files dating over three centuries from 1662 to 1971. As a result they are rich in a remarkable variety of research materials for family and local history.

The court of quarter sessions was also the major local government authority up to 1889, and so many other aspects of life were affected by its activities. It provided the police force, the prisons and the mental hospitals. It registered electors and licensed game keepers. For nearly three hundred years, it provided a public register of property transactions, accumulating millions of property< records in the process. Convicts for transportation, seamen captured by pirates, freemasons, paupers in their thousands, printers, and publicans, all found their way into the quarter sessions records.

All these records are available to researchers in the Wakefield office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service and there is a catalogue on-line at www.archives.wyjs.org.uk But finding a path through such a large, rich and varied archive needs a good guide. When the cataloguing of the quarter sessions records was completed, such a guide was published in 1984. Although the print-run was soon sold out, it has never been reprinted.

Now, with generous help from the Marc Fitch Fund, the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society has produced a new and thoroughly revised edition of the guide. And there is a new introduction, which explains how the West Riding quarter sessions records can be of use in research by family and local historians.

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