Legal Records for Local Historians


Legal records, those records created and used by law courts at both a national and local level, contain a vast array of information pertinent to those interested in every aspect of history. Though these records were created for legal purposes, their content is of use to a far greater range of people than just legal historians. 

Family historians can use them to find out more about their ancestors, local historians to find out more about local people or the history of particular houses, estates or places.  Social historians and historians of crime use them to find out how people were expected to behave in the past, and what happened when they broke the rules. Family historians find in them all sorts of lively details about family quarrels conducted via the legal system.

If you have thought about using legal records, but been put off by not knowing where to look for them or how to use them, this workshop is for you. 

This two-day workshop, led by Dr Daniel Gosling – Early Modern Legal Records Specialist at The National Archives – introduces the many varied types of legal records, held in both national and local repositories, and explains how to get the most from these records in your research. The workshop includes introductory lectures on the English and Welsh legal system and its records, plus practical sessions examining the different types of documents (in transcript). No pre-existing knowledge is required.

Types of records we will look at include plea rolls of the central law courts, dating from 1273-1847, which give us an unparalleled window on persons, places and events from the medieval and early modern period onwards.  We will look at land and title deeds, telling us about the property owners and power brokers of society.  We will see samples of town and county depositions, which are witness statements full of lively anecdotal detail about everyday life in the past. These include plea rolls of the central law courts, land and title deeds, and town and county depositions.

By the end of this workshop you will be able to identify different types of legal record, why these records were created, and how you might use the information in these records in your research.

Programme details

Saturday 30 October 2021

9.45am  Registration

10.00am  Introduction 1: The Legal System

11.15am  Coffee/tea break

11.35am  Introduction 2: The Legal Records

1.00pm  Lunch break

2.00pm  Plea Rolls

3.15pm  Tea/coffee break

3.45pm  Bills & Answers

5.00pm  Questions, Day One roundup

Sunday 31 October 2021

9.30am  Deeds

10.45am  Coffee/tea break

11.15am  Depositions

12.45pm  Lunch break

2.00pm  Bringing it All Together: Tracing a Case through the Records

3.30pm  Course ends


Description Costs
Tuition £145.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Daniel Gosling

Course Tutor

The National Archives, Legal Records Specialist (Early Modern), Collections Expertise & Engagement

IT requirements

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment, where students and tutors will discuss and interact in real time. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.