Cumbria Archive Service - Quarter Sessions records

The Quarter Sessions were meetings of Justices of the Peace (JPs) held 4 times a year at Easter, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Epiphany. The sessions dealt with minor criminal cases (assault, theft, poaching, etc.) and, from the 16th century, with the administration of the county. Administrative responsibilities included maintaining county buildings such as the Shire Hall and the gaol; maintaining roads and bridges (1531- ); licensing innkeepers and other tradesmen (1552- ); inspecting and licensing lunatic asylums (1832- ); supervising the parish constables and (from 1839) the county police force; administering the poor law (1601- ) and licensing dissenting meeting houses (1688- ). Much of this business dwindled in the 19th century, the remaining administrative functions of the Quarter Sessions being transferred to the newly created County Councils and County Borough Councils in 1889.

The Judicial functions of Quarter Sessions continued until the Courts Act abolished Quarter Sessions in 1971 and amalgamated them with the Assize Courts to create Crown Courts.

Many records were deposited with the Clerk of the Peace as a legal record, including enclosure awards; land tax returns (1780-1832); electoral registers (1832­-1889); deposited plans of public undertakings (late 18th c-19th c); etc.

With regards to locating Quarter Sessions records, those for the modern county of Cumbria are kept by the separate areas that generated them: Cumberland Quarter Sessions are in Carlisle Archive Centre, Westmorland in Kendal Archive Centre, Lancashire North of the Sands in Barrow Archive Centre and Lancashire Record Office, and the Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent of the former Riding of Yorkshire at West Yorkshire Archives in Wakefield.

Where records are cared for by Cumbria Archive Service, links to the online catalogue appear below.  These collections are not listed in their entirety so please contact the appropriate Archive Centre directly if you are researching sources not yet listed online.