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National Library of Wales
Court of Great Sessions in Wales

Reference code(s): GB 0210 CGREATS

Held at: National Library of Wales

Title: Court of Great Sessions in Wales Records

Short Title: Court of Great Sessions in Wales

Creation date(s): 1541-1830

Level of description: Fonds

Extent: Approx. 80 cubic metres

Name of creator(s): Court of Great Sessions in Wales.

CONTEXT

Administrative/Biographical history: The Court of Great Sessions was established by the so called Second Act of Union in 1542 and remained in existence until 1830. This Act brought Wales fully under English law. According to the Act the court was directed to hear all pleas 'in as large and ample a manner as the courts of the Kings Bench and Common Pleas'. It also appears that the court acquired an equity jurisdiction from the outset. The court was to sit twice a year and each session was to last for six days. For legal purposes the Act divided Wales into four circuits, with three counties to each circuit, namely:Chester(counties of Denbigh, Flint and Montgomery); North Wales (counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth); Brecon (counties of Brecon, Glamorgan and Radnor); and Carmarthen (counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen and Pembroke). There was no room for Monmouthshire in this new scheme and it was, therefore, assigned to the Oxford assize circuit. The records of this circuit are in The National Archives. In 1830 the Court of Great Sessions was replaced by the Chester and North Wales circuit and the South Wales circuit.

CONTENT

Scope and content/abstract: The main records of the court are: (1) civil side: plea rolls which is the formal record of civil actions, mainly debt, but from around 1700 only those actions which reached issue - an extremely small proportion in fact; docket rolls and books which serve as indexes to the plea rolls; prothonotary files which include draft pleadings, including those which did not reach issue, challenge pedigrees, insolvent debtors' papers and slander and libel papers where a defendant had moved for a writ a prohibition to halt the action being heard in the consistory court; feet of fines and common recoveries which are indexed in docket books of fines and recoveries and, for the Brecon circuit only, in the docket books of pleas and fines; and order books, which is a formal records of the court's orders in both civil and criminal cases; (2) Crown side: gaol files which include indictments, depositions of witnesses, recognizances, calendars of prisoners and coroner's inquests; indexes to criminal prosecutions for Flintshire (called Crown books, 1564-1666) and the Brecon circuit (called the Black Books, 1726-1830) though the order books already referred to contain formal records of orders to carry out sentences or to discharge prisoners; calendars rolls of indictments for Radnorshire, 1554-1659, Glamorgan, 1554-1603, Cardiganshire, 1541-1602, and Pembrokeshire, 1541-1622, 1674; and mainprize rolls (only six have survived)which list names of individuals bound over from one sessions until the next for an indefinite period; (3)equity side: pleadings of complainant and defendants together with interrogatories or set questions submitted to witnesses together with their replies; reports of the registrar of the court, decree books and bill books, the latter serving as indexes to the pleadings.

ACCESS AND USE

Language/scripts of material: Latin until 1733 (apart from depositions of witnesses and all records for the 1650s) and English thereafter.

System of arrangement: Arranged by circuit: Chester, North Wales, Brecon and Carmarthen and then sub-divided into civil side, criminal side, equity and attorneys papers.

Conditions governing access: No restrictions. Earlier Montgomeryshire gaol files are only available on microfilms.

Conditions governing reproduction: Usual copyright conditions apply.

Finding aids: Parry, Glyn , A Guide to the Records of the Great sessions in Wales (Aberystwyth, 1995), Chapman, Murray Ll., Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : calendar of criminal proceedings 1541-1570 (Aberystwyth, 2004) and Criminal proceedings in the Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : transcript of commonwealth goal files 1650-1660 (Aberystwyth, 1996).

ARCHIVAL INFORMATION

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: All records have been retained.

Accruals: Accruals are not expected.

Archival history: Following the abolition of the court, the records were held in (mainly unsuitable)premises scattered across Wales and in private hands. They were surveyed by W. H. Black of the Public Record Office in 1840 (see PRO,Deputy Keeper's Report, 1 (1840-41), and especially Black's diaries in TNA, 1/121/7 recording his heroic efforts to survey them in very disagreeable conditions). The records were eventually transferred to the Public Records Office in 1854 where most of them were listed and the most damaged, repaired.

Immediate source of acquisition: Series with an alphabetical prefix (apart from Great Sessions P) were presented to NLW in 1910 by the PRO; the remainder (i.e. series with a numerical prefix and Great Sessions P) were transferred from the PRO in 1963.

ALLIED MATERIALS

Existence and location of copies: Earlier Montgomeryshire gaol files are available on film at the National Library of Wales.

Related material: The most substantial body of stray records are Bangor University, Porth yr Aur Papers Additional 228-1807. The notebooks of Judge Samuel Heywood for the Carmarthen circuit, 1807-1820, are NLW MSS 193D-224D.

Publication note: Parry, Glyn , A Guide to the Records of the Great sessions in Wales (Aberystwyth, 1995), Chapman, Murray Ll., Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : calendar of criminal proceedings 1541-1570 (Aberystwyth, 2004) and Criminal proceedings in the Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : transcript of commonwealth goal files 1650-1660 (Aberystwyth, 1996), Williams, W.Llewelyn Williams, The King's Court of Great Sessions in Wales (London, 1916).

DESCRIPTION NOTES

Note: Title supplied from contents of fonds.

Archivist's note: Compiled by Glyn Parry. The following source was used in the compilation of this record: Parry, Glyn , A Guide to the Records of the Great Sessions in Wales (Aberystwyth, 1995).

Rules or conventions: This description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) Second Edition; AACR2; and LCSH.

Date(s) of descriptions: January 2009


INDEX ENTRIES
Subjects
Court records | Wales
Criminal courts | Wales
Law | Wales

Personal names

Corporate names

Places

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