This volume of Rutland’s Quarter Sessions records contains details of a wide variety of cases, ranging from the criminal to the administrative, and covers a period of some thirty years. The courts were held for the most part at Oakham Castle, but a fair few were held at Uppingham, usually in the Schoolhouse. Other venues mentioned are the Crown Inn at Oakham, the Falcon at Uppingham, a private house at Glaston and another at North Luffenham. Licensing sessions for victuallers were regularly specified to be held at the White Horse at Empingham, but the records of these sessions are not present in this book. A number of hands can be identified, the most obvious change being in 1770 when Isaac Bailey was appointed clerk in succession to Robert Ridlington, deceased.
The sessions were supposedly held quarterly, but there were occasions when the court was cancelled because no justices were present, and twice the Epiphany sessions were cancelled due to inclement weather, in 1767 and 1772. A glance at Thomas Barker’s weather records confirms that there were heavy snows and severe frosts in both years (see John Kington,The Weather Journals of a Rutland Squire (1988), 76, 79).Several categories of proceedings predominate: prosecutions for theft or assault, or for releasing animals which had been impounded for trespass; the appointment of gamekeepers; instructions to constables; the licensing of higglers (itinerant dealers in poultry and dairy goods, &c); remands in gaol for lack of sureties; the settlement of paupers in or out of the county and related disputes; and the release of offenders upon payment of dues.
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Nearly all the prosecutions were for what appear to be relatively insignificant crimes, despite the dramatic language of the record, and this seems to be generally reflected in the level of sentence. Many accused were found not guilty, whilst others were found guilty whether they admitted their wrong-doing or not. Conviction for theft mostly resulted in a whipping in public, though sometimes a private whipping is specified, and at least one ‘rogue and vagabond’ received a double whipping. Items allegedly stolen ranged from a parcel of onions or a dozen eggs to a plough beam or even worked stone set up in readiness for mending the turnpike at Glaston. The values were usually not great, often 10d.Assault generally attracted a fine, frequently of a shilling, although one case of discharging a handgun merited a fine of £5. Usually these fines were paid in court to the sheriff. The most serious assault seems to have been that by three members of the Thorpe family who set upon the constable of Uppingham and rescued a sibling from his custody – and even they were only fined a shilling each. The impression given is that Uppingham was the most riotous place in the county at this time, but overall the number of criminal cases seems low.Other activities attracted punishment: selling under-weight butter; swearing profane oaths; operating an unlicensed alehouse or gaming house; non-appearance at court; and failing to respond to the court’s directions. Perhaps the most interesting was the case involving Solomon Wadd of Langham who in 1771 uttered a false coin purporting to be a gold quarter guinea (5s 3d): perhaps an unusual coin to falsify since they were only ever issued on two occasions, in 1717 and 1762. This too resulted in a fine of a shilling. But it was the taking of a female deer that attracted the highest penalty, of £30.The remit of the Quarter Sessions was wide. We read of the raising of the county militia, with details of its establishment; of the requirement for weekly returns of the price of corn; of proper observation of the Lords’ Day; of complaints of the expense of passing vagrants along Rutland’s section of the North Road, leading to a contract for so doing; of profiteering by a cartel of London carriers, which led to the specification of a proper scale of charges for deliveries to Rutland (including 1s 6d for the carrying of a barrel of oysters); of instructing the highway surveyors of Langham to undertake repairs to their short but dreadful section of the king’s highway from Oakham to Ashwell; of regulating the price of bread; of collecting the rates; and of bastardy orders.Other matters recorded are the licensing in 1745 of John Hubbard’s house at Ridlington Park as a Quaker meeting place; limiting the display of stallions in Uppingham market to one part of the town; the approval of a licence granted by the Earl of Exeter for the building of a new cottage at Tinwell; the erection of a new building and improvements, including the use of Pilton slabs for the floor, at Oakham Gaol in 1759, 1770 and 1773. In 1772 we see that Henry Lumley was appointed to succeed his father William as gaoler – we know that in 1789 Henry met his death in the gaol at the hands of Richard Weldon in one of the county’s most notorious murder cases (Rutland Record 18 (1998), 344). There is also reference to the fitting up of a house of correction at Uppingham in 1760, but this is perhaps the only mention of it.Finally, we should note that this book also includes information about the enclosure of five Rutland parishes – indeed between them they occupy a substantial part of the book. They are Egleton, 1757 (award, pp52-70); Tinwell, 1757 (articles, pp78-89; award, pp 90-97); Edith Weston, 1758 (articles, pp112-22; award, pp 123-65); Ketton, 1768 (commissioners’ oaths, p274; award, pp275-333); and Uppingham, 1770-71 (commissioners’ oaths, p358; award, pp360-411). These appear to be verbatim copies of the award documents, and as such are invaluable in confirming the detail of each award, which may not otherwise survive locally (see Ian Ryder, Common Right and Private Interest: Rutland’s Common Fields and the Enclosure(2006)). Taking the small parish of Egleton as an example, amongst the specified detail we learn of the re-siting of a windmill into a new position in Oakham parish, of a three-acre gravel pit, of the names of owners including the Hospital of St John & St Anne in Oakham as well as individuals, of roads and rights of way including their gates, fences and hedges, of tithes, and of field-names. One item of particular interest is the resolution to straighten or canalise the rivulet that ran in a ‘crooked and winding course’ between Egleton and Oakham, and that this took place does indeed appear to be reflected in the Oakham enclosure map of some 80 years later. The awards for the other, larger, parishes contain similar information perhaps in even greater detail. Where the commissioners’ oaths are recorded, we learn that some nominees declined to serve in that capacity and substitutes had to be found. Following the Ketton enclosure, the rate assessment was quashed and a new one called for, and the surveyors of highways for Ketton lost their appeal against charges for the turnpike roads. The Uppingham award, which only affected part of the parish, included considerable detail about various exchanges of property. Prior to the Uppingham enclosure, in 1768, a writ of ad quod damnum was heard, followed by an inquisition into Robert Hotchkin’s application to enclose two roads in Uppingham town into his property with the proviso that he provided an alternative route: the application was granted.This volume is a fascinating record of the working of the Quarter Sessions in Rutland over a period of some 30 years in the mid-eighteenth century. Much of the business transacted is administrative, and perhaps surprisingly little is to do with criminality or social justice, even for a county as small as Rutland. However, for the local historian or genealogist it is a resource from which the names of individuals at all levels of society can be extracted, and is full of intriguing detail. Where else, for example, will one find the prosecution of an unlicensed ‘badger’?