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Calendar of Prisoners at Quarter Sessions

The Staffordshire Quarter Sessions

The courts of Quarter Sessions were established in 1362 and sat for over 600 years until their abolition in 1971. The court’s initial function was judicial – to hear criminal cases – but over time the court acquired more and more administrative functions. The justices were drawn from the local gentry, who undertook the work free of charge, as a public service. To be selected to serve as a justice of the peace was a mark of standing in the local community.

As its name implies, the court sat every quarter, usually in January, April, July and October. In Staffordshire the sessions were named after religious festivals – Epiphany (January), Easter (April), Translation (July) and Michaelmas (October). Sometimes the amount of business was so great that some had to be adjourned - put off until a later date - in which case extra sessions were held, usually a week or two later.

The court sat in Stafford and prisoners awaiting trial on more serious charges were housed in Stafford Gaol pending trial.

In 1889 the administrative functions of the courts of Quarter Sessions were transferred to County Councils, but the courts continued to hear criminal cases until their abolition in 1971.

The Calendars of Prisoners

Following each session a Calendar of Prisoners was published to record the personal details of people tried at the session and their offences. Information was recorded by case, so partners in crime are listed together.

The following information is given:
  • Case number
  • Surname and forenames
  • Age
  • Whether a prisoner could read and write
  • Name and residence of referring magistrate
  • Details of crime including place
  • Verdict and sentence

Most of the calendars of prisoners cannot be photocopied for conservation reasons. However, the original records may be viewed at Staffordshire Record Office.

Other Records of Interest

Sometimes further interesting details about a case may be provided by evidence to be found in depositions of witnesses, amongst the main bundles of quarter sessions papers.

The Archive Service is able to undertake further research in these records. For details of this service please see the Staffordshire Records Research Service page on the Archive Service’s main website.Note: The link to our main site will open in a new window.


We are pleased to acknowledge the considerable contributions made by Mr Alan Haywood and Mr James Gravil in terms of time and hard work, without which this online index would not have been possible.