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Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Indictments index, 1581-1733

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 at Stafford 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).

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.

Many of the official records of the Quarter Sessions, including the indictments, are in Latin prior to 1733, except during the Commonwealth period in the mid-seventeenth century.


Indictment was the name given to the process whereby a person made an accusation of a serious offence against another person. Indictments were made by both private individuals and public officials, typically parish officers, such as constables, surveyors of the highways and overseers of the poor.

In Staffordshire, the indictments were recorded in the quarter sessions rolls, together with a record of the verdict. The indictment records:

  • the name, occupation or status and place of residence of the complainant
  • the name, occupation or status and place of residence of the accused
  • very occasionally, the name, occupation or status and place of residence of a witness
  • the nature and location of the offence complained of
  • the verdict – “true bill” (guilty) or “ignoramus” (“we don’t know” – not proven, rather than innocent). Occasionally a verdict is not recorded, in which case we have indicated this by adding the note “Not endorsed”

Related records

The Quarter Sessions bundles (ref.: Q/SB) may contain documents related to some cases.

The Consistory Court cause papers (ref.: B/C/5) may contain documents related to some cases, if also brought before the church authorities. The types of cases where this is possible are defamation (malicious gossip); teaching without licence; immorality, which often includes ‘fathering an illegitimate child’; as well as all of the cases listed in the religious offence section below.

About this index

This index covers the period 1581 to 1733. It contains 12,350 entries representing around 6,000 cases, bearing in mind that, in some cases, there are multiple complainants or persons accused.

Offences include::-

  • violent offences
    • murder, manslaughter
    • rape, forced marriage
    • abduction, false imprisonment
    • assault
    • highway robbery
    • extortion
    • riot, unlawful assembly
    • illegal release of a prisoner from custody
    • illegal entry, ejection and disseisin the seizure of land belonging to someone else
    • ill-treatment of a horse
  • offences against property
    • theft
    • house-breaking burglary
    • wilful damage
    • close breaking the destruction of gates, fences and hedges to allow livestock to escape
    • destroying growing crops or timber
    • trespass
    • poaching, illegal hunting, illegal fishing
    • erecting a cottage illegally
    • destruction of title deeds
  • agricultural offences
    • failure to maintain hedges and ditches
    • failure to scour a watercourse
    • deprivation of right of pasture
  • economic offences
    • fraud
    • engrossing corn attempting to monopolise the market
    • selling unwholesome food or drink
    • keeping an unlicensed alehouse
    • trading without having completed an apprenticeship
    • taking on an apprentice without an indenture
    • leaving apprenticeship early, without leave
  • social offences
    • possession of firearms
    • absence from musters
    • failure to maintain ward and watch
    • barratry bringing vexatious lawsuits
    • perjury
    • malicious gossip
    • singing seditious songs
    • forgery
    • teaching without a licence
    • neglecting to perform public office
    • refusal to assist constables
    • failure to maintain the highway, a bridge
    • obstructing a highway
    • dismantling a bridge on a public highway
    • diverting a watercourse, building a dam, draining a pond
    • vagrancy and begging
    • excessive drunkenness
    • playing unlawful games cards, skittles, bowls, etc.
    • fathering an illegitimate child
  • religious offences
    • recusant papistry failure to attend the Church of England
    • failing to observe the book of common prayer
    • permitting markets and fairs to be held in a churchyard
    • playing games during time of divine service


We are able to supply images from the Quarter Sessions rolls, such as the indictments, unless the document is in poor condition.

This is a flat fee regardless of the number of photocopies involved

£ 8.00 per record (including postage and packing)


We are grateful to Jim Sutton for his time and hard work, without which this online index would not have been possible.