Court Records:
Quarter and Petty Sessions

In 1440 Hull was separated from Yorkshire as an independent county with its own sheriff. From 1447-1835 the county of Hull included the parishes of Hessle, Kirkella and North Ferriby. The county burgesses were empowered to elect twelve aldermen to assist the mayor and to serve as magistrates. They held formal meetings that incorporated within them quarter sessions and petty sessions. The minutes of these early meetings can be found in a set of unindexed bench books (C BRB 1-10) until 1741 when the volume of documents being lodged with the magistrates increased and separate bundles of documents had to be introduced (C CQB). The Quarter Sessions continued as criminal courts until 1971 when the County Court judicial system was implemented.

Quarter Sessions
These were county courts held by the magistrates (also known as Justices of the Peace) from the 14th century four times a year at Epiphany (Jan-Mar), Easter (Apr-Jun), Midsummer (Jul-Sept) and Michaelmas (Oct-Dec). The work of these courts was varied. They dealt with criminal matters from petty theft to rape. Quarter sessions courts also dealt with administrative matters such as licensing. Many Poor Law cases found their way into the Quarter sessions Courts. More serious crimes were referred on to the assize courts where professional judges could handle them, rather than the Justices of the Peace. Assizes were held in Hull at irregular intervals until 1794. Thereafter prisoners committed to the assizes by Hull courts were tried at York. The records of the courts of assizes are held by The National Archives.

Petty Sessions
These courts met daily and formed the lowest tier in the English court system, now known as magistrates’ courts. They dealt with minor crimes, licensing, juvenile offenders and civil matters such as bastardy, child maintenance and adoption.

Hull’s Minutes of Petty Sessions (C CPM) 1811-1835 deal chiefly with settlement examinations (those trying to claim poor relief in an area where they have no right of settlement).


Hull’s Judicial Records include:

Juror’s lists (C CQB) These listed men aged between 21 and 70 who were liable to serve as jurors. They were lodged with the Clerk of the Peace and, until 1832, they note men’s ages, occupations and residence (or qualifying property).

Calendars of Prisoners (C CQB) Most of these give their names, ages, charges, levels of literacy, verdicts and sentences. Some also give the date when the offender was taken into custody, particulars of any previous convictions and information about the court officials who sat during the trial.

Indictments (from 1741) and statements by witnesses in respect of criminal cases 1840-1971 (C CQB). Many of these are indexed up to 1899 and are searchable through our card index system.

Order Books (1506-1533 and Jan 1693-Jan 1900) give the names of people charged and information on their offence, verdict and sentence. They also give the names of the jury, the complainant and any witnesses called (CQA).

Recorders Note Books 1875-1971 (C CQG).  provide the most detailed record of cases They were taken by the clerk of the court during the hearings. However, they are notoriously very difficult to read.

Colonial Service Agreements 1747-1774 (C CQB). Contracts relating to the transportation of felons to the colonies. These had to be signed in the presence of two magistrates. The agreement then had to be certified to quarter sessions and registered by the clerk of the peace.

Occupations and Employment records generated by the courts include:

Minutes of Petty Sessions (C CPM) give names of alehouse keepers and their sureties (1821-1835).

Apprenticeship agreements and any disputes arising causing indentures to be cancelled or discharged before the magistrates, 1813-1821 (C CPA).

Regulation of wages 1669-1721 (C CAR).

Returns of members of Freemasons’ Lodges 1799-1880 with gaps (C CQB). The unlawful Societies Act of 1799 suppressed certain dangerous societies but permitted freemasons’ lodges providing that they submitted lists of members to quarter sessions annually. The lists give occupations and places of abode if not Hull.

Notices delivered by Printers 1807-1865 (C CQB).

Monetary concerns of the courts include:

Poor law issues including maintenance and settlement cases (C CQB).

Taxation Assessments C16-1827 with gaps (C CAT). These were arranged by ward, township or by street and listed names, sometimes an indication as to wealth and status and the level of tax to which they were liable. Marriage Tax Assessments are also held in this category for 1695-1697.

Notices of appeal against taxation or rate assessments (C CQB).

Relief of Insolvent Debtors 1742-1824 (C CQB and C CQI). The most useful information is contained in the schedule of assets. This gives the name and occupation of the debtor, their place of residence and, usually, the sum owing, the nature of the debt, the names of any witnesses and an inventory of possessions and real estate. This arrangement was terminated in 1824 when, by and Act of Parliament, the local work was transferred to visiting Commissioners sent out by the central Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. The records of the Courts held by these commissioners at Hull are also held here (C JI). 

Other quarter sessions records include:

Registration of places of worship 1757-1845 (C CQB). These include protestant dissenters as well as Catholics and oaths of individual protestant dissenting ministers 1769-1846 (C CQB).

Lists of Pauper Lunatics 1829-1881 with gaps (C CQB). These give the lunatic’s name, age, sex, nature of lunacy and their financial burden on the relevant parish. There are also lists that give names, parish and occupation of those appointed to visit the lunatic asylums.

Statements and verdicts of Coroner’s Inquests 1840-1899 (C CQB). These include information from witnesses, regarding untimely or questionable deaths. Many of these are indexed and are searchable through our card index system.

Please note that there may be closure notices on more recent quarter and petty session records.