A poacher could expect little leniency  from a Justice of the Peace who was  also the landowner. From  The British Museum Collection  (Ref: AN563430001).

A poacher could expect little leniency from a Justice of the Peace who was also the landowner. From The British Museum Collection
(Ref: AN563430001).

The difference between urban and rural Surrey was marked: there was far more theft in the urban parishes. The items that were stolen showed a similar divergence. In urban Surrey clothes were the most common; in the country districts it was food. A crucial distinction was between grand and petty larceny. If the goods stolen were worth more than a shilling, then it was grand larceny and a felony for which the offender could be hanged.

This 'bosky' (rural) magistrate had the assistance  of a clerk - who no doubt charged fees.  From The British Museum Collection  (Ref: AN478661001).

This ‘bosky’ (rural) magistrate had the assistance of a clerk – who no doubt charged fees. From The British Museum Collection
(Ref: AN478661001).

As rural Justices of the Peace were invariably landowners, it is not surprising that they took a hard line with poachers. Similarly, they increasingly punished the rural working class for acts such as gleaning the remaining grain from harvested fields or collecting firewood from private woods. The labourers considered that these were their rights, established by long custom. The Georgian squires knew that they had no legitimacy in law, and were determined to enforce their property rights.

Until Victorian times, Justices of the Peace were  responsible for the maintenance of bridges,  like this one at Tilford. Image courtesy of  Matthew Alexander.

Until Victorian times, Justices of the Peace were responsible for the maintenance of bridges, like this one at Tilford. Image courtesy of
Matthew Alexander.

Magistrates began to deal with more felonies to relieve the pressure on the Assize Courts. The Assizes were held only twice each year, whereas the Quarter Sessions met four times, and had the option of adjourning for additional sittings. It was at these adjournments that the magistrates commonly dealt with their administrative tasks, such as bridge repairs.

Read more about Surrey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Find out about the Quarter Sessions and Assize Records held at Surrey History Centre.

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