Introduction: Eighteenth Century Freeholders Books

In 1696 'An Act for the Ease of Jurors, and better Regulating of Juries' was passed.13 This established the procedure under which the books of freeholders should be drawn up. In order that 'all Sheriffs of counties may be better informed of persons Qualified' to serve, constables and headboroughs were to draw up a list of eligible persons, giving their abode and titles. This was to be returned to the Michaelmas quarter sessions, and a duplicate made by the clerk of the peace and delivered to the sheriff of the county by 1 January each year. The lists were to be entered into a book by the clerk of the peace, and in future all jury panels were to consist of individuals named in the freeholders book. Fourteen of the surviving freeholders books are dated as having been created under the pre-1730 legislation.14

The 1730 'Act for the Better Regulation of Juries' specified that lists of jurors were to be compiled from the poor rates or land tax assessments for the parish, and fixed to the door of all public places of worship on two or more Sundays, at least 20 days before Michaelmas. The purpose of this was to ensure that the names of any persons included by mistake may be removed, and those omitted in error inserted. The parish constables were then required to attest to the accuracy of the lists upon oath in the presence of one or more justices of the peace, and to deliver them to the constable of the hundred. The hundred constables were charged with submitting the lists to the justices at quarter sessions. The sheriff was then required to enter the names into a book, recording the 'Additions and Places of Abode alphabetically', from which jurors would be summoned. A series of penalties were enacted to ensure that the lists provided an accurate reflection of those who qualified for service, and that subsequent jury panels comprised only those eligible.

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  1. 7 & 8 W, c. 32. [back]
  2. DHC, QS7/1-13 cover 1711, 1713-15, 1717-22, 1725, 1727 and 1729. A further, undated volume, appears to date from the 1720s. For a full list of surviving freeholders books see Appendix[back]