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Running the county

Historical records of courts, councils, police, schools in Oxfordshire.

Quarter sessions

The quarter sessions records for Oxfordshire have all been deposited at the History Centre. 

The handlists of plans deposited with the Clerk of Peace can be found on our map page. These include plans of railways, bridges, canals, turnpikes and Rights of Ways.

Oxfordshire County Council

Oxfordshire County Council was established under the Local Government Act of 1888 whereby the administrative responsibilities of the old courts of quarter sessions were transferred to elected county and county borough councils.

Oxford City Council

Oxford is an ancient royal borough and county town of Oxfordshire. It was granted County Borough status in 1890 with an entirely separate jurisdiction in all matters from the rest of the County until Local Government Reform in 1974 when it became one of five districts within the new County of Oxfordshire.

District councils including Rural and Urban District Councils

Oxfordshire has five district councils: Cherwell, Oxford City, the Vale of the White Horse, West Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire. They were created in 1974 as part of a national reorganisation of local government which included the extension of Oxfordshire into parts of Berkshire (now the Vale District) and creation of a new county council.


In the medieval period, many towns were granted rights and privileges such as self-government, the right to hold fairs and courts of law. They were called boroughs and their rights were usually confirmed by the Crown in a charter.

Boroughs were governed by corporations usually linked to local merchant guilds and property-ownership; in most boroughs councils were only elected after the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. They had the power to levy rates, own and lease property, and send representatives (MPs) to Parliament.

Most towns evolved a well-developed judicial system including courts of record (generally for civil cases, including probate administration), quarter and petty sessions (usually for criminal cases) and other courts for special purposes, for example, coroners.

Many boroughs were associated with medieval manors whose manorial courts continued to influence town affairs; increasingly such courts were used to regulate the sanitary problems of towns (nuisances) until the development of ad hoc authorities, for example, improvement commissions, local boards, in the 19th century.

There were four surviving boroughs in Oxfordshire until 1974:

Key records

The key records of boroughs include:

  • Founding/governing documents: for example, charters
  • Administration: for example, Corporation Act books, council minutes
  • Freemen and councillors: for example, registers of apprenticeships
  • Property: for example, deeds and leases
  • Finance: for example, ledgers, rent books, rate books and mortgages
  • Judicial records: for example, Quarter Sessions, Coroners
  • Charities and bequests: for example, trustee documents, minutes, accounts

Where are these records?

The catalogued archives of all four boroughs are held at Oxfordshire History Centre. 

Where is the catalogue?

Catalogues for Banbury, Chipping Norton, Henley and Woodstock are available online via our online catalogue Heritage Search.

Parish councils

Parish councils were formed as a result of The 1894 Local Government Act, which created a unified network of civil administration at the lowest level of local government.

The parish council replaced the functions of the ecclesiastical parish vestry, so for similar records prior to 1894, please search the relevant parish catalogue either online via Heritage Search or in the search room.

If the population of the village was below 300 then the village formed a parish meeting instead.

What will you find?

These records mainly consist of minutes, accounts and correspondence concerning local issues.  There can also be information concerning village halls, recreations grounds, rights of way, allotments and cemeteries.

Where are these records?

At Oxfordshire History Centre, you can find:

  • Oxfordshire parish council records
  • parish councils from the Vale of White Horse, formerly part of Berkshire.

Please check with us in advance to ensure we do have the records, as records may be held at Berkshire Record Office.


Catalogues of the records are available on Heritage Search. A copy of the catalogue is also available in the search room.

County court

These were created by the County Courts Act of 1846 to deal with civil (non-criminal) cases. Initially, their jurisdiction included claims of debt of for damages, claims for recovery of land and for the administration of estates, the execution of trusts, and the redemption of mortgages. They also covered matters regarding the maintenance of infants, the dissolution of partnerships, and contentious probate business.

The remit of the courts extended to cover, for example, issues arising from the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, the Tithe Acts of 1891 and 1936, compensation for injured workmen under the Workmen’s Compensation Acts of 1897, 1906 and 1925, and petitions under the Adoption of Children Act, 1926.

The records generated by these courts include minute books of orders and judgments, cause books (of civil proceedings), actions’ books, judgement summonses, workmen’s compensation registers, Deeds of Arrangement indexes, and tithe acts’ books.

Each court had jurisdiction over an area roughly co-terminous with the boundaries of the Poor Law Unions.

Where are these records?

Books, registers and other documents generated by the courts between 1847 and 1980 at Oxford, Banbury, Chipping Norton, Thame, Wallingford (and Didcot), Wantage and Witney are held at Oxfordshire History Centre.

Some of this material is closed under the Data Protection Act.

More recent records may be housed at Oxford Combined Court Centre in St. Aldate’s, Oxford

Where is the catalogue?

The catalogue is available on our online catalogue Heritage Search. All county court documents have the prefix CCT.

Enter CCT1 for Oxford, CCT2 for Banbury, CCT3 for Thame, CCT4 for Wallingford, CCT5 for Wantage, CCT6 for Witney or CCT7 for Chipping Norton and choose the "Archive Catalogue" collection to see the catalogue.

The Coroner

It is important to point out that any searchers interested in coroners’ records that are less than 75 years old have to apply personally to the Coroner in the first instance. 

Oxford City Police

The Oxford City Police force came into operation on 1 January 1869, under the Oxford Police Act of 1868. On 1 April 1968 the force amalgamated with Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Reading Borough forces to become Thames Valley Constabulary, later renamed the Thames Valley Police.

Petty sessions and Magistrates Court records

From 1828 the quarter sessions courts could create petty sessions courts within their counties.  These were usually based on the former hundreds of the counties and were held more frequently than the quarter sessions courts.  Although these courts had civil jurisdiction for such cases as the granting of licences for the sale of alcohol, they also tried cases of minor non-indictable crimes.

The Magistrates’ Courts Act of 1952 gave these courts the power to try some indictable offences, particularly those involving persons aged under 18.  A bench of magistrates trying a child or young person was termed a juvenile court under the Children’s and Young Persons’ Acts of 1933-1963.

The petty sessions were used as a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, held before two or more magistrates in a sessions courthouse. Defendants could choose instead to appear before a quarter sessions or assizes court. The quarter sessions court also acted as a court of appeal from the petty sessions. The petty sessions, quarter sessions and assize courts were abolished on 1 January 1972.  Petty sessions have been replaced by magistrates’ courts.  Borough courts continued until the Local Government Act of 1972.

Magistrates Court records

The Oxfordshire History Centre holds Magistrates Court records for the historic county of Oxfordshire and former Berkshire courts after 1974. These records are closed under Data Protection legislation but we can provide certificated copies from the records
where necessary. If you require a copy please contact us by email.

Where are these records?

Oxfordshire History Centre holds petty sessions records dated 1828 to 1970s.  The records cover the following divisions: Bampton East; Bampton West; Bullingdon; Henley; Watlington; Henley Borough; and Oxford City Police Court (refs. PS1-8).  Directories are a useful source to find out which parish is in which petty session division.


The petty sessions catalogue is available at Oxfordshire History Centre. This catalogue is online, see Heritage Search.

Poor law unions

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 combined small numbers of parishes to form poor law unions, each with their own workhouse. Poor Law Unions were abolished in 1930. Records include Board of Guardians' minute books, which give information on payments and treatment of paupers, care of children, medical officers' reports and alterations to buildings. Oxfordshire History Centre holds the records of the following Poor Law Unions:

  • PLU1 Banbury Poor Law Union
  • PLU2 Bicester Poor Law Union
  • PLU3 Chipping Norton Poor Law Union
  • PLU4 Henley Poor Law Union
  • PLU5 Thame Poor Law Union
  • PLU6 Witney Poor Law Union
  • PLU7 Woodstock Poor Law Union
  • PLU8 Oxford Corporation Poor Law Union

Download the factsheet (pdf format 29Kb).


We hold a number of school records including log books, admissions registers and Managers minute books, though many records for dame schools and workhouse schools have not survived.

Electoral registers

Electoral registers were introduced in 1832 and are a list of all the people registered to vote in a particular area. Poll books were compiled since the late 18th century, recording the names of voters and the candidates they voted for. They ceased to be published in 1872 with the introduction of the secret ballot.

Oxfordshire History Centre holds electoral registers for both the County of Oxfordshire and the City of Oxford.