Gwynedd Archives Service is participating in the ‘Welfare, Conflict and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars, 1642-1700’ project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council over a 4 year period. The aim of the project is to digitize and transcribe all petitions (and associated certificates) for pensions or relief to the Quarter Sessions in England and Wales relating to wounds and bereavements suffered by the petitioner as a consequence of the Civil Wars.
The Quarter Session Court collection held at the Caernarfon Record Office dates back to 1541, and therefore contains material relating to the Civil War. In addition to the petitions, the collection includes letters signed by Charles I and also Oliver Cromwell, and the cases that come before the court show the impact of Cromwell’s policies on Caernarfonshire.
In 1654 Morris ap William David of Llanfihangel y Pennant accuses Hugh ap William ap Evan and his wife Ellin of allowing a play to be performed at their home, Derwyn Fechan, Dolbenmaen. Morris ap William David explains that the three actors were not local, he describes that the actors had changed their costumes several times during the performance, and that one of the actors dressed as a woman. Morris ap William David had probably been peeping through the window and had not been invited to see the play!
During the Commonwealth period the staging of plays was prohibited. It was a period of strict control with people more than ready to inform on one another, as is evidenced in Alban Roberts’s testimony dated 1658. He accuses Robert Wynne, Pen y Caer of threatening to hit Jeffrey Parry, Rhiwddolion with a gun and cursing him three or four times saying ‘myn diawl’.
As the Quarter Sessions administered the county before the establishment of the County Councils in 1890 the collection includes all types of records from a range of misdemeanours such as minor crimes and assaults, to orders for parishioners to ensure that they repair the roads and the bridges within their parish. The collection is full of interesting material relating to individuals and communities that would not have otherwise been recorded. For example, information was sent to the Justice of the Peace in 1566 explaining that English pirates had taken a Dutch ship full of molasses, sugar, and goats’ skins whilst it was sailing from Barbary to Antwerp. Both Evan ap Meredith and Richard ap Meredith are accused of assisting the pirates whilst the ship was near St Tudwal’s Island. Also in 1577, Margaret, daughter of Ieuan ap David ap Madog of Ffestiniog, admitted that she had stolen a penny’s worth of cheese and was punished by being flogged and then nailed by her ear in the market place at Caernarfon.
These individuals would not have written about their own experiences but the survival of the collection enables us to have a vivid insight into the County’s individuals and communities. Being part of this project is an opportunity to highlight elements of the collection and will encourage more to use the Quarters Sessions collection.