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London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) holds records for different kinds of court – coroners, magistrates or petty sessions, county courts, quarter sessions and other types of local or national court relating to London.

In addition the penal system is documented through records of the City of London Police, and local authority Policing Committees and related bodies. Note records of the Metropolitan Police are not held by LMA (held at the National Archives (TNA) and the Metropolitan Police). Also records of Prisons including H.M.Wandsworth Prison, Holloway Prison and Feltham Young Offenders Institution.

The following courts are held:

Coroners

The primary purpose of the coroner in England, since the establishment of the office in the early middle ages, has been to investigate sudden, unnatural or unexplained deaths.

LMA holds coroners’ records for the City of London and Southwark, the former counties of London and Middlesex and, from 1965, for Greater London.

Magistrates or Petty Sessions

These courts deal with a wide range of largely criminal and ‘less serious’ cases heard without a jury. Examples include: drunk and disorderly conduct, assault, theft, begging, possessing stolen goods, cruelty to animals, soliciting, obstructing highways, and motoring offences. They also dealt with non-criminal issues e.g. landlord and tenant matters, matrimonial problems and bastardy.

LMA holds records for Magistrates and Petty Sessions for most areas of Greater London, and also has records of Juvenile courts for Inner London boroughs.

County courts

County courts had jurisdiction over eg claims of debt or for damages, recovery of land, administration of estates, execution of trusts, foreclosure and mortgages; maintenance of infants, relief against fraud; contentious business in probate and administration.

LMA holds records from Bow, Wandsworth, Woolwich, Lambeth, West London, Edmonton, and Southwark County Courts, and The Mayor's and City of London Court.

Quarter Sessions

​These courts had jurisdiction over eg breaches of the peace - assault, rioting, minor theft, vagrancy, lewd behaviour, and offences against the licensing laws. Courts met four times a year (hence the name 'Quarter Sessions'). The Middlesex justices also tried more serious cases under the Commissions of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery.

Their work was later extended to include a wide range of administrative functions including maintenance of bridges, gaols and asylums; regulating weights, measures, prices and wages, and enforcing the Poor Law.

LMA holds the records of the City of London Sessions, Middlesex Sessions, Westminster Sessions, the Sessions of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and Middlesex held at the Old Bailey until 1834, and the County of London Sessions.

City of London Courts

These courts dealt with a variety of issues and subjects

LMA holds records for: Mansion House Justice Room, CLA/005: Guildhall Justice Room, CLA/023 Court of Husting, CLA/024: Mayor's Court, CLA/025: Sheriff's Court, CLA/026: City of London Court, CLA/027: Mayor's and City of London Court, CLA/038: Court of Requests, CLA/039: Courts of Judicature, CLA/040: Courts of Law, CLA/041: City of London Coroners Court, CLA/042: Southwark Crown Court. There are also many series of records relating to eg the Court of Common Council and its committee work.​

Other Courts

LMA also has court rolls and other documents from Manorial courts in Rotherhithe, Clerkenwell, Islington, Southwark, Stepney and Tooting.

CLC/309 is a collection which includes notes on jurisdiction and procedures of courts in London; reports on cases; briefs, case notes, correspondence and accounts for various courts including the Court of Star Chamber, the Court of Exchequer, the Court of Chancery, the Court of King's Bench and Queen's Bench, and legal institutions such as Furnival's Inn, the King's Bench Prison, the Old Bailey and Marshalsea Prison.

Guides and sources

Online

Old Bailey records can be searched online at the Old Bailey website.

London Lives 1690-1800 Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis is a website which includes Middlesex Sessions papers and records of Bridewell.

Published calendars of the some of the earliest surviving records of the City of London courts and the Middlesex Sessions can be consulted on the British History Online website.

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