Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #3

In this third of our blogs featuring “informations and examinations”, we‘ll focus on the unheard voices of women. Even women who were born into rich families were not always given an education, so their voices remain largely unheard.

In 1735 Elizabeth Ayleworth tells how she was sexually assaulted after a man ‘endeavoured to put his hand under her petticoat’. Afterwards, he kicked her in the street and she was bedridden for three days. Even today, women who find the courage to speak out risk having their reputation called into question, so Elizabeth may have been a woman with some level of respect and social standing who felt her version of events would be believed.

In 1751 we hear from Jane Harrison of Woodchester, singlewoman, who accuses two men of poisoning her drink with Spanish Fly. This is a beetle which produces a toxic chemical called cantharidin, believed to be a sexual stimulant but is actually highly toxic. The two men accuse each other, then back track and one of them says they tried to reduce the amount. Their punishments are not given in the statement.

It’s easy to believe that women were regarded as totally unimportant, the property of their fathers or husbands. However the Quarter Sessions records include many cases where women come forward and publicly name and shame the men who abused them. This is one of the places where we can say that women were listened to.

In 1736 Anne Fox of Tytherington comes forward and accuses her husband of domestic abuse: ‘she is afraid he will kill her unless some means may be found to prevent him doing her further harm’. The court had previously fined him for this but it’s unclear whether the deterrent worked. We don’t know how Anne Fox ended up. Was she safe? Did she leave? We are left wanting to know the end of her story.

Many cases of bastardy appear because the parish wanted to determine who was financially responsible for the child. In 1745 Sarah Baker of Cirencester Stow, single woman, states ‘that William Banet had carnal knowledge of her body in the cloister at Gloucester’ and her child ‘when born is likely to be a bastard chargeable to the parish’. Her statement also specifies that she is saying this ‘voluntarily without compulsion’. This suggests there must have been women who were forced to come forward, even if they didn’t want to.

Attitudes towards women and issues affecting women shift back and forth, but some of the cases above will certainly resonate today.

Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #2

In the second blog about Unheard Voices in the Quarter Sessions records we will look closer at how these people identified themselves or, more realistically, how the courts identified them.

Sometimes the trade given is vagrant or vagabond, someone who is wandering and begging for food or work. In other words, they have no fixed employment and this makes them outcasts.

In 1766 James Aires, listed as ‘homeless orphan’ tells the court he was told by his mother he was ‘born in a pigsty’. With no other family, since her death he wandered looking for food and shelter, stopping in farmhouses and working petty chores for his keep. Although he asked the parish for help before, he was turned away and told to work for the farmers. The statement ends by saying he is twelve years old.


Industry seems to be what binds together communities and offer economic survival. In fact, in almost every Sessions, people are defined by their work, or lack of. We’ve come across husbandman, victualler, labourer, coal miner, nailmaker and many more. This is very valuable historical information, much like the census which tells us about how people lived and what they relied upon.

Although the cases are local, there are also references to what was happening in the wider world at the time. In 1766 Anne Hedges tells us her story, and is simply described as ‘widow’. She says her husband was born in the parish Ross in Herefordshire, but she was born in New York. After marrying her soldier husband she travelled around with him, performing nursing duties during what she called ‘the late war’ (meaning the Seven Years War). She then says she was wounded at ‘Martinico’ (modern day Martinique).  This was attacked and occupied by the British in 1762, which fits her timeline. Afterwards she came to Britain on the ‘Solebay Hospital Ship’ and landed in Leith. She has a happy ending, as the parish agrees to take her in and care for her. She would have been unusual in her new local community, as people, especially women rarely travelled far outside their own county.

Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #1

This is the first of five blogs featuring the records of the court of Quarter Sessions and the “unheard voices” they allow us to hear.

Today we are almost deafened by voices, thanks to the internet and of course, social media! But it hasn’t always been like this. Before the mid 19th century, most people didn’t own property, had no vote, and didn’t go to school. This means their lives could leave little or no trace within the written records and so their voices remain silent.

The records of the court of Quarter Sessions are an exception to this.  Quarter Sessions were meetings of local magistrates, knows as Justices of the Peace, who met four times a year, hence the name.  The court dealt with a great variety of complaints and crimes, from stealing a hat to dangerous rioting.  In 2019 we launched a volunteer project called Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood to look in detail at a particular series of these court records, the “information and examinations” between 1728 and 1770. We wanted to bring out the voices of ordinary people, especially those at the margins of society.   

Many of the cases tell us about the local trades, neighbourly disputes, and abandoned children of the parish. We often have no idea about people’s motives, their background or how the case affected their day to day lives. And the Sessions don’t necessarily tell us what the punishment or resolution was. But we can start to see patterns of behaviour, what details people focused on and therefore what was important to them and their community.

Every ‘Session’ gives us the name of the accused or accuser, where they live, what they do, and what the case is about. In 1740 John Jones the younger of Coleford in Newland, a cooper is accused of violent behaviour. According to the person who wrote it, ‘the family have a very bad character in the neighbourhood’. They don’t just state what happened, they offer an opinion. This can be just as valuable to us, as facts alone don’t tell us about attitudes or customs of the day, or what one particular community was like to live in.


Cotswold Roundabout goes Digital, by Natasha Young

I was appointed as a Gloucestershire Archives trainee in January 2021 under the National Archives “Bridging the Digital Gap” scheme.  My post has an emphasis on digital and technical skills and one of my tasks has focussed on the Cotswold Roundabout collection (D6112).  This wonderful sound archive consists of programmes compiled and edited by the Cotswold Tape Recording Society from around 1960 to 1976.  Originally called Hospital Roundabout, the programmes were designed to provide comfort and entertainment to hospital patients. The scope then widened to reach the elderly, the blind and the disabled, through clubs, homes and societies. .Despite being an amateur endeavour, the recordings were made in a professional manner and the quality of the audio is high.  The content is extremely varied, showcasing the talents of local people and “characters”, from singing and stand up comedy to telling spooky tales.  It also includes people’s reminiscences and unvarnished interviews about local trends. 

Original Cotswold Roundabout reel-to-reel tapes
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Blogging a Building (23) – the end of an era, by Heather Forbes

On 7th December 2020 we signed the completion certificate for Gloucestershire Heritage Hub.  This signified the end of the snagging period following the handover of the completed building and site in August 2019.  It therefore seemed appropriate to bring to an end this series of Blogging a Building, started by Jill Shonk back in February 2017. You can read the whole series here by searching for Blogging a Building, and see a pictorial record of how the building project developed from January 2017 to December 2020. We accidently missed out number 18, ambitiously jumping from 17 to 19! 

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How to preserve your family or community archive: the Collection Care Covid-19 lockdown blogs. Blog CC #18


  • Do you have a personal, organisational, local or subject related archive?
  • Have you been following our training blogs?

 Since April 2020, we’ve posted over 20 blogs to help you care for, manage and develop your collection. We hope you’ve found them helpful.  Here’s a quick re-cap of what we’ve covered:

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How to preserve your family or community archive: the Collection Care Covid-19 lockdown blogs. Blog CC #16

  • Thinking about making copies of items/collections?
  • Keen to save time and avoid damaging originals?
  • Want to know how best to prepare?

Making copies of fragile or popular items reduces handling and the risk of physical damage, the number one cause of deterioration in archives (see blog CC#4 on causes of damage to archives.)

It’s good to keep an eye on how often items are used so you can see which ones are most at risk of damage.  Keeping a note with your catalogue or list is a great way to do it – even a simple ‘five bar gate’ tally will do.

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