How to look for records of... Civil trials in the English assize courts 1656-1971 – key to records

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide provides the key to records of civil trials held at assize courts in England since 1656 and until 1971. In 1971 assize courts were abolished and replaced by crown courts.

If you know which English county a trial was held in and when the trial took place, use the tables and advice in this guide to determine which National Archives record series to look within for records of the trial.

2. Essential information

Although the central common law courts were based in Westminster, it was usual for trials in civil disputes to be held locally, under a writ known as nisi prius. In effect this meant that the cases were heard at the next visit of the circuit judges to hold assize courts in the relevant county.

3. Types of records and what they contain

For advice on how to find the following types of records see section 4.

3.1 Minute books

The assize clerks recorded brief details of a trial in minute books, including names of parties, type of case and judgment order.

3.2 Other records

Other records in civil trials can include:

  • pleadings – statements of claim, defence and counterclaim
  • judgment orders in cases, sometimes found on a part of the record known as posteas
  • correspondence of the assize clerks, mostly administrative
  • financial business including fees and costs
  • nisi prius trials (see section 2)

4. Key to finding civil trial records

Search the record series in the table below by date, using the advanced search option in our catalogue. Alternatively, browse through them in our catalogue by clicking on the record series links. For more information on whether to browse or search, see our Discovery help pages.

Use the advanced search option in our catalogue to search for posteas among assize records (in departments ASSI, DURH and PL) and the records of the central courts of Westminster (in departments KB, CP and E), where these records were often returned, using ‘postea’ as your keyword. You can further restrict your search to the series listed in the ‘Other records’ column in the table below.

From 1876 all civil cases heard by the assize judges were held at district registries of the High Court. For pleadings in assize cases from 1876 it is therefore also worth searching in J 54, which covers pleadings in several types of court including district registries of the High Court, by initial letter of the plaintiff’s surname in the advanced catalogue search. For more detail see the advice on pleadings in our guide to Chancery cases in the Supreme Court after 1875.

County Date range Minute books Other records
Bedfordshire 1783, 1850-1876
1932-1943
ASSI 32
ASSI 14
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39, ASSI 15
Berkshire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Buckinghamshire 1783, 1850-1876
1932-1943
ASSI 32
ASSI 14
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39, ASSI 15
Cambridgeshire 1783-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Cheshire 1876-1924
1914-1926
1867-1912
1945-1970
ASSI 57
ASSI 58
ASSI 60
ASSI 78
ASSI 59, ASSI 63, ASSI 66, ASSI 67
Cornwall 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Cumberland 1877-1904
1909-1915
1970-1971
ASSI 54 ASSI 43, ASSI 46, ASSI 47, ASSI 93
Derbyshire 1932-1943 ASSI 14 ASSI 15
Devon 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Dorset 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Durham 1938-1971 ASSI 41 DURH 19, ASSI 46, ASSI 47, ASSI 93
Essex 1792-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Gloucestershire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Hampshire 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Herefordshire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Hertfordshire 1792-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Huntingdonshire 1783-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Kent 1792-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Lancashire 1877-1904
1909-1915
1970-1971
ASSI 54 PL 28
ASSI 46, ASSI 53, ASSI 93
Leicestershire 1864-1875
1932-1943
ASSI 32
ASSI 14
ASSI 15, ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Lincolnshire 1932-1943 ASSI 14 ASSI 15
Monmouthshire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Norfolk 1783-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Northamptonshire 1864-1876
1932-1943
ASSI 32
ASSI 14
ASSI 15, ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Northumberland 1938-1971 ASSI 41 ASSI 43, ASSI 46, ASSI 47, ASSI 93
Nottinghamshire 1932-1943 ASSI 14 ASSI 15
Oxfordshire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Rutland 1864-1876
1932-1943
ASSI 32
ASSI 14
ASSI 15, ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Shropshire
(Salop)
1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Somerset 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Staffordshire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Suffolk 1783-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Surrey 1792-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Sussex 1792-1971
1870-1890
ASSI 32
ASSI 37
ASSI 34, ASSI 38, ASSI 39
Warwickshire 1929-1944 ASSI 14 ASSI 15
Westmoreland 1877-1904
1909-1915
1970-1971
ASSI 54 ASSI 43, ASSI 46, ASSI 47, ASSI 53, ASSI 93
Wiltshire 1656-1971
1810-1957
ASSI 22
ASSI 28
ASSI 24, ASSI 30
Worcestershire 1803-1971
1854-1890
ASSI 1
ASSI 8
ASSI 4, ASSI 9, ASSI 10, ASSI 93
Yorkshire 1877-1904
1938-1971
ASSI 54
ASSI 41
ASSI 15, ASSI 43, ASSI 46, ASSI 47, ASSI 93
Guide reference: Legal Records Information 12