The Right to Remain Silent

Late in 2011 the former Devon Record Office (now known as Devon Archives and Local Studies Service) was awarded a grant of £32,000 by the National Archives Cataloguing Grants Programme.  This award funded a project - entitled The Right to Remain Silent? which resulted in the sorting, flattening, cleaning, repackaging and cataloguing of a portion of the records of the Devon County Quarter Sessions courts.

The Devon Quarter sessions records form a complete and unbroken series which dates from 1592 until the courts were abolished in 1971, and is the earliest uninterrupted series of such records in the country. The cataloguing grant enabled a cataloguing scheme to be developed to provide a detailed listing of these boxed sessions records.   It allowed records dating from 1734 to 1747 to be reboxed and catalogued to item level. Volunteers are continuing to work on the project since the funding ended.   

QS bundles boxesQS bundle box repackaged

The records concerned contain the raw material of the business transacted at the County Quarter Sessions. There are writs, bills and depositions relating to criminal cases, papers concerning the removal of vagrants, petitions from bankrupts, coroners’ bills and reports on roads and bridges needing repair.   In addition, the 19th century rolls – which have not been dealt with during this project - contain reports on lunatic asylums in the county, crime statistics and lists of county police constables and officers.

Robert (Bob) Bennett was employed as project archivist, and spent almost a year setting up the project and cataloguing the sessions records with the help of volunteers.  He has now moved onto another project in the north of England.

Read Bob’s report written in October 2012 on the project’s progress image - PDF icon (115KB - pdf help) (115KB - pdf help)

Weekly updates on items of interest that were found in the records can still be seen on Bob’s project blog

Bob published an article about our Quarter Sessions records and the project in Family Tree Magazine, March 2013, pp. 50-51.

Robert Bennett

Volunteer conservators

Cleaning, sorting, repackaging, numbering and reboxing was all done by volunteers, both in the conservation studio and in the project room, where they worked alongside Bob Bennett.

Retired archivist John Booker has since volunteered to carry on the cataloguing project now that Bob has moved on, and he is currently working part-time to catalogue the records of the 1750s.  He was initially assisted by Jon Kelsey, who specifically catalogued the poor law documents – those relating to bastardy and settlement cases of the 1730s and 1740s -   which were found among the boxed records of the Quarter Sessions.  Since then, various work experience students and aspiring historians and archivists have been gaining experience by assisting John Booker with the ongoing cataloguing project.

John Booker QS projectJohn Kelsey QS project

The results of the project will complement work done by the National Archives in making criminal records available online through their own and partner genealogical websites.

It will also link in with projects already carried out in other counties to catalogue sessions records, thus enabling students to have a wider overview of topics of national relevance, such as the implementation of the poor laws and the treatment of criminals.

For further information about the continuation of the project and how to participate as a volunteer, please contact Irene Andrews, Senior Archivist, on 01392 384318 or email her on