Discover your ancestors today by exploring an index of over 3,000 depositions from the London Consistory Court. You can search for your relative by name and birth place. People of all walks of life appear within these records, from servants and nurses to sword cutters and gentlemen. Although the courts were used by people in the London area, individuals from all over Britain gave depositions. Did your ancestor participate in an 18th century court case? You can access the original records at the London Metropolitan Archives with the reference found in this index.
Each record includes a transcript of the original index. The amount of detail in each transcript may vary but most will include:
Gender and age
Birth year and birth place
Occupation of the individual or the individual’s spouse (often found in the women’s records)
The year the deposition or witness statement was given
The individual’s marital status and if married, the length of the marriage
A description of the record details. This may include additional notes, such as marriage place, current residence, residential or employment history.
Archival reference for the London Metropolitan Archives*
*Most records will have the full reference number. The folio number can often be found in the Description field. However, for some records there is only a partial reference number available.
The depositions of the Consistory Court of London are held at the London Metropolitan Archives along with the other records of that court.
The LMA reference to these records is DL/C/0247-253 & 632; the index records give the "DL/C" number and the folio within that set of records, eg: "DL/C/0248 f.351".
The index records were extracted from part of a series of 109 deposition books held at the LMA . The depositions regarding a given case were clearly filed together but there may be several sections concerned with a given case. The filed depositions were at some point bound up in a very rough chronological order into volumes containing very variable numbers of folios, an average being some 400-600 or so.
The database contains over 3,000 index records of cases and witness depositions from 1700 until 1713. These cases may involve matrimonial matters such as divorce and separation, breech of promise, arguments over estates and probate, defamation, and "criminous conversation.” Slightly over half of the deponents are female.
The depositions themselves are from a very early date and are in English but the preambles, giving the biographical information about the deponent, were written in Latin until 1733. In the transcripts all terms have been rendered into English. With some occupations this may introduce inaccuracy, for example pistor has been translated as baker but sometimes may mean miller, while agricola has been translated as yeoman though it may just mean husbandman.
What was the Consistory Court of London?
The Consistory Court of London was one of numerous Church Courts, which dealt, among other ecclesiastical matters, with matters of morals. This preoccupation led to them being referred to as the Bawdy Courts.
The Consistory Court had jurisdiction over the whole of the bishopric of London, and so cases concerning not just London and Middlesex but parts of Hertfordshire and Essex appear in its records. Discover more about the hierarchy of the Church of England courts and court procedures in our Church of England Courts article, which can be found in the Useful Links and Resources section.
The Consistory courts became known as the Bawdy Courts because of the titillating nature of many of its cases. The cases included defamation, adultery and behaviour, which led to the breach of peace, which could include a public insult. Cases of prostitution and ‘bastard-bearers,’ women who gave birth outside of marriage usually involved poor women. But the cases of marital disputes or adultery would involve people across all classes. In the cases involving the landed gentry, the house staff such as cooks and chambermaids were often called upon to give depositions. In many defamation cases we can see that often it was women who would bring the suit to court in defense of their own reputation and against scandalous gossip.
The procedure of the church courts was very different from the civil court system of today. The parties to a case provided witnesses to attempt to persuade the court of their case (or defence). These witnesses were known as deponents, as their evidence was given, not orally, but by deposition, a written statement of the facts. Depositions were taken in response to written lists of questions (called interrogatories) drawn up in advance.
People from all walks of life and place of origin appeared as witnesses in these cases. Servants and tradesmen would be called upon to tell their story and, in this prurient age, to "shop" their master or neighbour. Though used primarily by the local London community, there are entries relating to people from outside London and Middlesex. The church courts were one of the few ways to obtain a legal separation and to solve matrimonial disputes between husband and wife.
Although relatively expensive, they were used by a significant number of people. The lure of London has always been strong and it was a community made up of both Londoners and in-comers. However the sheer number of parishes in the City of London and Middlesex can make finding an individual as difficult as looking for the needle in the haystack. Indexes such as this are invaluable for anyone who needs to look for Londoners or migrants to London at this period.