Please click here to view a provisional list of some three hundred Devon documents given by the Oddy family to the Devon & Cornwall Record Society for deposit within its collection.
These papers will be available at the Devon Heritage Centre, hopefully, later this year. The society’s council had intended to hold event this summer to showcase the documents but the current situation has postponed these plans. While we are in this current crisis it is possible for DCRS members to request jpegs of these documents and these will be sent via e-mail.
To order a jpeg please email email@example.com
These papers date from the late 1500s to the late 1700s. They originated with the business of the Devon County courts at Rougemont Castle in Exeter and the majority are constables’ presentments providing lists of freeholders and copyholders for jury duty. The society’s president has written about Devon juries.[i] Dr Stephen Roberts explains that:
`In early modern England and Wales, the assizes and quarter sessions courts managed local government as well as the justice system. There were two kinds of juries. The grand jury, comprising more socially elevated minor gentry and yeomanry, considered whether a defendant had a case to answer, and also ‘presented’, or brought to the attention of the courts, any matters that the courts might address, ranging from moral turpitude to defective highways and drains. The second kind of jury was the trial or petty jury, whose job was to find defendants guilty or not guilty.
An act of 1696 sought to reform a jury system that had long been reliant on ancient custom. Forty years earlier, Devon assizes and quarter sessions relied on the services of handfuls of men to serve on juries. While this ensured that the courts could guarantee that juries could be empanelled and justice administered, the practice of using ‘professional jurors’ was plainly open to abuse and to an intolerable financial burden on jurors compelled to abandon their normal work when trials were extended or postponed. The 1696 act stipulated that parish constables should bring in lists to quarter sessions, every Michaelmas, of male freeholders and copyholders between the ages of 21 and 70. The clerk of the peace was to create a book of all the parish returns, which would henceforth form the basis of jury recruitment. Yorkshire, like Devon, was a huge county, and so dependent had Yorkshire assizes become on their tiny number of jurors, it was decreed that no-one in Yorkshire from then on was to serve on a jury more than once every four years. No such stipulation applied to Devon, but a similar tale could have been told here. What had been a convenient way of ensuring reliable county government in 1649 had become corruption and unfairness by 1696.’
[i] J. S. Cockburn & Thomas A. Green (ed.), Twelve Good Men and True: The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200-1800 (Princeton, 1988), 182-213.
Dr Todd Gray
27 March 2020