Crime and punishment records
Looking for criminal ancestors or interested in the justice system? Court records and newspapers can help.
If you know the name, place or date, try searching on Hertfordshire Names Online.
Or you could try the catalogues of Quarter Sessions or Petty Sessions (Magistrates records) on the Online Archive Catalogue.
Magistrates Courts or "Petty Sessions"
These courts tried minor offences and were held every week. They were also the first place where more serious offences were heard.
We hold Petty Sessions registers (although many 19th century records are missing) and local newspapers reports.
Quarter Sessions Court
This court met 4 times a year and heard more serious crimes. Punishments could include transportation to Australia or prison, but not the death penalty. Locally, there were Quarter Sessions courts for the county and for the boroughs of St Albans and Hertford.
We hold published summaries of many of the cases heard there as well as gaol calenders and local newspaper reports on the trials.
Ancestry.com has an index to the Home Office registers listing people tried at the Quarter Sessions from 1805 to 1892. Ancestry.com is free to use in any Hertfordshire library.
Crown Court or "Assize"
The most serious crimes were tried at the Assize or Crown Court before a judge. The court usually sat twice a year. Nearly all Assize records are held at The National Archives. We hold local newspaper reports for these cases.
Ancestry.com has an index to the Home Office registers listing people tried at the Assize from 1805 to 1892. Ancestry.com is free to use in any Hertfordshire library.
Hertford Gaol Governors' Journals exist from 1834 to 1878 and they sometimes name prisoners. Local newspapers often included weekly lists of people sent to jail in the first half of the 19th century.
The Gaol Books series consists of Gaol and House of Correction summaries and records of convicts sent to court. They survive from 1770 to 1814 and 1819 to 1828.
Hertfordshire Archives also hold the records of the county's sheriffs, from which the modern day County Courts developed. The County Courts of Hertfordshire hold their own records.
The National Archives has guides on searching for the records of different courts in England and Wales.