Shire Hall c.1895. Part of which in 1849 was used as a Magistrates CourtReproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.
The lowest level of criminal courts in 19th century Essex were the Petty Sessions also known as County Magistrates Courts. At this time the county of Essex was split into administrative units known as Hundreds. Each Hundred covered a covered a number of parishes. For each Hundred there was a Petty Sessions which dealt with minor criminal offences. For the more serious offences they held held committal proceedings. If there was a case to answer these were then sent to the Quarter Sessions or Assizes for trial.
In 1849 each clerk of the Petty Sessions was required to submit to the government details of where the court was held with a comments on the accommodation. The list reveals an interesting mix of specially designed buildings, a castle, use of the local town hall or police station, and even rented rooms in pubs and private houses. As the century progressed specially designed court buildings were built across the county.
Source: Sessional Papers of the House of Lords 1849
Further reading: For more on tracing your criminal ancestors in Essex see our article on Essex Court Cases or find out what was life like in Chelmsford Prison.
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