The magistrate and the community: summary proceedings in rural England during the long eighteenth century

  • Nerys Elizabeth Charlotte Darby

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The study of how the law worked at a local level in rural communities, and in the role of the rural magistrate at summary level, has been the subject of relatively little attention by historians. More attention has been given to the higher courts, when the majority of plebeian men and women who experienced the law during the long eighteenth century would have done so at summary level. Although some work has been carried out on summary proceedings, this has also tended to focus either on metropolitan records, a small number of sources, or on a specific, limited, number of offences. There has not been a broader study of rural summary proceedings to look at how the role and function of the rural magistrate, how local communities used this level of the criminal justice system, as complainants, defendants and witnesses, and how they negotiated their place in their local community through their involvement with the local magistrate. The research presented here uses the surviving summary notebooks of 13 magistrates working across central and southern England as primary sources, taking both a quantitative and qualitative approach to examine how rural summary proceedings operated. It shows that there was wide participation in the summary process in rural England, and that rural magistrates had a more individualised approach to their summary work and decision-making than their London equivalents. It reveals how even the poorest members of rural societies were able to employ agency and display authority in their appearances before the magistrate, and demonstrates the extent to which the use of discretion, mediation and arbitration were key functions of the rural justice.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Northampton
    SupervisorC Smith (Supervisor) & D Gray (Supervisor)

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