Crime and Punishment
What records can I find at Denbighshire Archives?
Quarter Session records
The Court of Quarter Sessions in Denbighshire sat four times a year, attended by the Justices of the Peace of the county. Quarter Sessions courts began in Wales after the Acts of Union, 1536-1543. Sessions were held at quarterly intervals in the weeks following the feasts of Epiphany (6th January), Easter, Transition of St Thomas the Martyr (7th July), and Michaelmas (29th September).
The Court of Quarter Sessions heard a broad range of cases including burglary, assault, drunkenness, poaching, vagrancy, rioting, unlawful cutting of timber, and encroachment. Forms of punishment handed down by the justices were fines, flogging, imprisonment and transportation. The Court also heard disputes between individuals, such as non-payment of debts, and was responsible for the administration of the Poor Laws. More serious crime was dealt with by The Great Sessions in Wales between 1542 and 1830.
The judicial role of the courts continued until their abolition in 1971. Records include session rolls, minute books, order books, depositions and session files.
More details on specific records can be found on The Quarter Sessions page.
You can see the full list of Quarter Session records held at Denbighshire Archives here.
Petty Sessions (later Magistrates Courts)
Petty Sessions began at the beginning of the 18th century as extra meetings to lessen the burden on Justices of the Peace in Quarter Sessions. The normal practice was to subdivide a county into geographical divisions with each magistrate being assigned to a particular division. The Sessions were held twice monthly in each division as opposed to the Quarter Sessions, which were held every three months. The Petty Sessions dealt mainly with minor cases such as drunkenness, assaults, larceny, trespassing, fraud and juvenile cases, as well as ale licensing and adoption. They required the presence of two Justices of the Peace but no jury.
The county of Denbighshire was originally divided into the divisions of Bromfield and Yale (later Bromfield), Upper Chirk/ Ceiriog, Colwyn Bay, Denbigh, Edeyrnion, Isaled, Isdulas, Llangollen, Ruabon, Ruthin, Uwchaled, Uwchdulas and Wrexham. From around 1941, Upper Chirk/ Ceiriog Division was amalgamated with Llangollen Division. On April 1st 1974, the divisions were reorganised into the following; Berwyn, Colwyn, Dyffryn Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor.
We hold records for the following courts-
Denbighshire Divisions (pre 1974)
- Upper Chirk/Ceiriog
- Colwyn Bay
- Denbigh Borough
- Wrexham Borough
Clwyd Division (post 1974)
County Court Records (Civil Courts)
County courts, dealing with civil cases, were created under the County Courts Act 1846. England and Wales were divided into districts, empowered to purchase land to construct a court house. The purpose of the courts was to hear civil cases, and mainly heard cases at its monthly meetings. They dealt with cases for the recovery of small debts concerning contracts, trusts, probate and property. Clerks were created to keep accounts of all proceedings of the court and all court fees.
There were Courts in Denbigh, Llanrwst, Ruthin, and Wrexham in Denbighshire, and Corwen (Merionethshire).
Earlier records relating to Ruthin and Wrexham court have not been transferred to Denbighshire Archives and are presumably lost.
We hold records for the following County Courts-
The Denbighshire Constabulary was formed around 1849. The Constabulary was arranged into two divisions, A Division (Wrexham), and B Division (Denbigh); divisions maintained records including crime registers, summons books, registers of charges, accident books and visits books. In the late 19th century, the force’s headquarters were in Wrexham. In 1967, Denbighshire Constabulary merged with the Flintshire and Gwynedd Police authorities. Following local government reorganisation in 1974, North Wales Police was formed.
You can see a list of Denbighshire Constabulary records held at Denbighshire Archives here. [Please note that this list has not been added to the electronic catalogue yet]
Ruthin Gaol Prisoner Records
We hold very few records relating to prisoners held at Ruthin Gaol. The only surviving prisoner record is an admission and discharge register for female prisoners (1825-1828). However there are records of the prison administration including plans, reports, rules and regulations in The Quarter Session Records.
You can search census records for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 online. If you find a prison in the census, it will list the names of prisoners present at the time the census was taken.
The office of the coroner was created in 1194 when the coroner’s main duty was to protect the financial interest of the crown. From 1752 to 1860, coroners were required to file their inquests at the court of the quarter sessions and some session rolls will contain evidence of this. The coroner’s role has evolved over time and now is primarily concerned with cases of sudden or suspicious death.
We hold the following coroner’s records-
You can find out more about what information a coroner’s record may contain here.
To access a coroner’s record dated within the last 75 years you must apply to the coroner. You can find the contact for the Denbighshire coroner here.
What language were the records written?
These records are in English. It is our policy to catalogue records in the language they were originally written.
How can I access these records?
No digital images of these records are available online.
You can view these records in our searchroom. Book a place in the searchroom today.
There are access restrictions on court records due to personal and sensitive information they contain. See our access page for further details.
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
The Parliamentary Archives, London
Contact the Parliamentary Archives for records of the House of Lords, which is the court of appeal for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The archive holds extensive records relating to the creation and implementation of the law, and the papers of numerous Members of Parliament and political figures.
The National Archives, Kew
The National Archives holds records of the Assize Court. You can see their research guides here.
The National Library of Wales
Courts of Great Sessions (similar to the Assizes in England) for more serious judicial and civil proceedings were also held. These were peculiar to Wales and began in 1542. They were abolished when the Assize system was put in their place in 1830. The surviving records of the Courts of Great Sessions are now held at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.