Most family historians interested in Social History will seek to put some flesh on the rather sterile "tree" compiled from parish registers and perhaps, some surviving wills. Some of our ancestors became accountable to the law for their actions or inactions. The human condition has not altered and our ancestors exhibited the same frailities as ourselves; only the method of dealing with them has changed.
The vast majority of records of "minor" offences relating to ordinary folk in England were dealt with at the Quarter Sessions. Accessibility to the surviving records varies widely. Some record offices have indexed theirs but for others it is a time-consuming and costly exercise sorting through papers filed chronologically, and sometimes the outcome of cases is inconclusively recorded. It is very much a matter of luck but always worth enquiring about. For the 19th century and later, newpaper reports may have been indexed.
Here are some examples abstracted from my own family history, presented here to illustrate some of the types of surviving records. All related to the HARBRIDGE and PAPPRILL families, who merged upon the marriage of Jospeh PAPPRILL (Senior) and Marianne HARBRIDGE at St Andrew's Holborn, Middlesex in 1827 and who emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand on the "Phillip Laing" in 1856.
SESSIONS ROLLS FOR 1619 - (Essex)
"PAPRILL to answer for that he, coming on Sunday night the 15th September from an alehouse in the same drunk, was required by Solomon Prower then on the King's Watch there to go with him, who answered he cared neither for the King's Majesty nor for such Jack an apes slaves as he was and therefore broke the King's Peace upon him".
"Henry Hickes, innholder and James Barker, tailor both of Billericay stood for John PAPPRILL, blacksmith".
Was this Solomon Prower of the "Mayflower"? He was Christopher Martin's brother-in-law or stepson and 1619 was the year previous to the sailing of the Pilgrim fathers. The Solomon Prower, stepson of Christopher Martin of the "Mayflower" was arraigned before the Vicar of Great Burstead in 1620, before its sailing, but some consider him to have been too young to have been the watchman. Christopher Martin was a Great Burstead man and accompanied the Mayflower immigrants as the ship's governor. Solomon Prower (Martin) died after the Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbour, December 1620. Billericay and Great Burstead are adjacent parishes and the Papprill's were blacksmiths in each, father to son for several generations.
"The Information of
Mary Harrison, wife
of William Harrison of Parshore in the
County of Worcs, gent taken upon the 19th day of June 1660, before
Gervase Bucke Esq one of his majestie's
Justices of the Peace" (Worcestershire).
"Shee saith and doth Informe that shee heard Margaret Wudville aboute eight weeks synce say yf Piddle Mill were as neare as Parshore Mill shee woud not trouble such a Whoremaster (meaning as this informant conceaved) Mr ffrancis Steede whoe is the Tennent of Parshore Mill, whereupon one Hanna Barnford being then present asked her how shee knew he was a Whoremaster Shee answered that he was taken in Bedd with Nan HARBIDGE (meaning as this Informant conceaved) Mrs Ann HARBIDGE and that the streets were in uprore."
information of Jonathan Chandler taken upon oath
before Thomas Jolliffe Esq
one of their Majesties' Justice of the Peace for the County of
Worcester the 10th day of September 1690"
"This Informant deposeth that hee and others being upon the watch in the town of Bromsgrove, Thomas Tillersley and others weare drinkeing singing and roaring at an unseasonable time in the night at the house of one Thomas HARBAGE, and Hee and others did call to them and desier them to put out their light and Thomas Harbage came out of the house and did strike him down .......
This Informant deposeth that hee came by Thomas Harbage's house and Thomas Harbage came to the dore and bid the Wachmen their wayes, And then Thomas Tillersley came out and swore and damned at them, And flunge Jonathan Crane downe, And then Hee did heare Thomas Harbage say God a mercy Tom Pay him off."
April 1786, Old Bailey, London
John SMITH ws
indicted for feloniously stealing on the 17th April one wooden firken,
value of 18 pence and 76 pounds weight of butter, value 40 shillings,
the property of Henry CAPEL and
seven years' transportation.
bon Daventry, Northants 1734. Died Feltham, Middlesex 1802. Proprietor
of warehouses and ships. John GIRDLER,
his nephew, Cheesemonger, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster.)
LYTTLETON TIMES, CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
Court, Christchurch, Monday
March 19, 1859
before Joseph Brittan and John Bealey Esq.
A charge of assault and drunkeness with disorderly conduct was brought by Joseph William PAPPRILL against Solomon Stephens and William Thomas Stephens -
Joseph Papprill - "I am landlord of the Sawyers Arms at Papanui. About 8 o'clock on Sunday evening I heard a violent noise at the door of my house. My barman went to answer ..... they demanded drink and were supplied after they had been let in. I then heard Solomon Stephens say - "I suppose Joe (meaning me) is playing cards as usual on a Sunday evening. I then told Robert Moore, my barman to put out the light, open the bar and let them out. Upon hearing abusive language I went to the bar. I saw Solomon Stephens. I told him I could not have a row on Sunday evening in my house. I was about to go over the counter to them, but my wife would not let me. She got over herself to help the barman. Stephens took the candlestick off the counter and threatened to knock Mrs Papprill and Robert Moore down. Stephens then struck me with a whip. I saw W T Stephens strike Mrs Papprill".....(and so it goes on, claim and counterclaim including dispute over the amount charged for brandy).
Both Stephens were convicted and fined 30 shillings and costs, but then Robert Moore, the barman (and Papprill's brother-in-law) preferred a charge against W T Stephens for assault. The evidence was the same. Solomon Stephens who appeared as principal witness for W T Stephens went directly to contradict all that had been stated before - that he saw no assault whatsoever, that the bar was open, there was no knocking and they merely walked in. The justices gave up. Case dismissed with costs.
The sequel: a counter charge of assault was brought by Solomon Stephens against J W Papprill. Papprill had apparently thrown a glass of brandy and ginger beer into Stephens' face. The Court reserved judgement. I have found no subsequent judgement. Perhaps it died a natural death.