Here are transcriptions of a series of notebooks kept by Baldwin Fulford JP, during hearings at an unnamed court.
These eleven notebooks were found in a chest of documents at Great Fulford, in the parish of Dunsford. The Fulford family have occupied this estate since Norman times. This is thought to be the longest time that such owner-occupation has been passed down with the same family name. The present owner is Francis Fulford. I am grateful to him and his wife for their generosity in allowing me to transcribe the collection.
The notes were written in large exercise books. Only one bears the name of the probable author on the inside cover: B. Fulford. Nov?Dec? 27 1855. Comparison with the handwriting of other documents from the mid-nineteenth century makes it almost certain that these notebooks are the work of Baldwin Fulford, who was then the owner of Great Fulford.
They contain notes of court hearings. Most of them deal with crimes such as theft and assault. There are occasional disputes between parishes over responsibility for poor relief payments. A few concern applications for planning licences.
The court is never named. The cases concern parishes across Devon. Since they do not include more serious crimes, such as murder, the likelihood is that these were magistrates courts, the equivalent of petty sessions, and that Baldwin Fulford J.P. made the notes during the hearings to remind himself of the proceedings.
Very few of the notebooks are dated. The events which they cover are usually dated only by the day and month. We may therefore assume that, where a year date is occasionally given, this refers to the previous year. This internal evidence makes it possible to date most of the books. They range from 1848 to 1859.
The criminal cases record the names of the accused, the charges, the evidence (sometimes the exact words spoken at the time the crime was committed or the accused arrested), the verdicts and sentences. None include testimony from the accused. Most sentences are for relatively short periods of imprisonment, sometimes accompanied by a whipping, but sentences of up to seven years may be given to repeat offenders. H.L. suggests that some were sentenced to hard labour.
The notes appear to have been written at speed, and are often difficult to decipher. Names, in particular, may be inexact in the original, as well as causing problems for the transcriber. Sometimes it has been possible to confirm a difficult reading by comparison with the 1851 census.
They throw a colourful light on this period and should enliven many family histories.