- 1541-1830 / (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Approximately 80 cubic metres.
Name of creator
The Court of Great Sessions was established by the so called Second Act of Union in 1542 and remained in existence until 1830. This Act brought Wales fully under English law. According to the Act the court was directed to hear all pleas 'in as large and ample a manner as the courts of the Kings Bench and Common Pleas'. It also appears that the court acquired an equity jurisdiction from the outset. The court was to sit twice a year and each session was to last for six days. For legal purposes the Act divided Wales into four circuits, with three counties to each circuit, namely: Chester (counties of Denbigh, Flint and Montgomery); North Wales (counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth); Brecon (counties of Brecon, Glamorgan and Radnor); and Carmarthen (counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen and Pembroke). There was no room for Monmouthshire in this new scheme and it was therefore assigned to the Oxford assize circuit. The records of this circuit are in The National Archives. In 1830 the Court of Great Sessions was replaced by the Chester and North Wales circuit and the South Wales circuit.
Following the abolition of the court, the records were held in (mainly unsuitable) premises scattered across Wales and in private hands. They were surveyed by W. H. Black of the Public Record Office in 1840 (see PRO, Deputy Keeper's Report, 1 (1840-41), and especially Black's diaries in TNA, 1/121/7 recording his heroic efforts to survey them in very disagreeable conditions). The records were eventually transferred to the Public Records Office in 1854 where most of them were listed and the most damaged of them were repaired.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Series with an alphabetical prefix (apart from Great Sessions P): Public Record Office; Chancery Lane, London; Presented; 1910.
Series with a numerical prefix (and Great Sessions P): Public Record Office; Chancery Lane, London; Deposit; 1963.
Content and structure area
Scope and content
The main records of the court are: (1) civil side: plea rolls which is the formal record of civil actions, mainly debt, but from around 1700 only those actions which reached issue - an extremely small proportion in fact; docket rolls and books which serve as indexes to the plea rolls; prothonotary files which include draft pleadings, including those which did not reach issue, challenge pedigrees, insolvent debtors' papers and slander and libel papers where a defendant had moved for a writ a prohibition to halt the action being heard in the consistory court; feet of fines and common recoveries which are indexed in docket books of fines and recoveries and, for the Brecon circuit only, in the docket books of pleas and fines; and order books, which is a formal records of the court's orders in both civil and criminal cases; (2) Crown side: gaol files which include indictments, depositions of witnesses, recognizances, calendars of prisoners and coroner's inquests; indexes to criminal prosecutions for Flintshire (called Crown books, 1564-1666) and the Brecon circuit (called the Black Books, 1726-1830) though the order books already referred to contain formal records of orders to carry out sentences or to discharge prisoners; calendars rolls of indictments for Radnorshire, 1554-1659, Glamorgan, 1554-1603, Cardiganshire, 1541-1602, and Pembrokeshire, 1541-1622, 1674; and mainprize rolls (only six have survived) which list names of individuals bound over from one sessions until the next for an indefinite period; (3) equity side: pleadings of complainant and defendants together with interrogatories or set questions submitted to witnesses together with their replies; reports of the registrar of the court, decree books and bill books, the latter serving as indexes to the pleadings.
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Arranged by circuit: Chester, North Wales, Brecon and Carmarthen; and then sub-divided into civil side, criminal side, equity and attorneys' papers.
Conditions of access and use area
Conditions governing access
Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions noted on the 'Modern papers - data protection' form issued with their Readers' Tickets.
Conditions governing reproduction
Usual copyright laws apply.
Language of material
Script of material
Language and script notes
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
Allied materials area
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
No restrictions. Earlier Montgomeryshire gaol files are only available on microfilm.
Related units of description
Parry, Glyn, A Guide to the Records of Great Sessions in Wales (Aberystwyth, 1995); Chapman, Murray Ll., Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : calendar of criminal proceedings 1541-1570 (Aberystwyth, 2004); and Criminal Proceedings in the Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions : transcript of Commonwealth Gaol Files 1650-1660 (Aberystwyth, 1996).
Virtua system control number
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Description control area
Rules and/or conventions used
Description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH
Level of detail
Dates of creation revision deletion
Compiled by Glyn Parry. The following source was used in the compilation of this record: Parry, Glyn, A Guide to the Records of Great Sessions in Wales (Aberystwyth, 1995);