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The Consistory Court of London, one of numerous Church Courts, was the main court dealing, inter alia, with legal separation and matrimonial disputes. The British Origins database contains over 3,000 index records to cases and witness depositions in the period 1703-1713. These cases may involve matrimonial matters such as divorce and separation, breech of promise, arguments over estates and probate, defamation, and "criminous conversation".
The index records typically contain full name of the deponent, their age, birthplace, current place of residence, name of their spouse, occupation of their or their spouse and the length of time they have been married.
Records can be searched by first and last names of deponent, year (of deposition) and county of birth
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.
About the depositions
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.
Slightly over half of the depondents are female.
What do the index records tell you?
These index records are quite rich, and typically contain (where given in the deposition), the following information about each deponent:
Example index records
The examples show the tremendous amount of genealogical information contained in these records that is unlikely to be found in other sources of the period.
Street, Amarylla ([aged] 24: [born] St Andrew Holborn, London)
wife (married 6 months) of Francis, [residing in] St Sepulchre for 8 years,
[spouse's occupation] basket maker. Date 27 June 1701
[LMA reference] DL/C 247 f(olio) 208
The LMA reference is to the actual deposition, kept at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), where it can be viewed and copied.
Adams, Mary (47; Cranborne, Dor) wife of Thomas,
St Martin in the Fields (married 9 years), gentleman 30 Nov 1710
DL/C 252 f.128
Nicholls, Thomas (68; Howden, Yks), St Bride, Lnd (8 years),
turnkey at Fleet Prison 4 Jan 1705/6 DL/C 249 f.42
Harper, Margaret (40; Syston, Lin) wife of Robert,
haberdasher living with Stephen Jermyn, Lime Street, Lnd,
merchant, snr. for 10 months 17 Mar 1704/5 DL/C 248 f.351
Margaret Harper, born in Lincolnshire, was married to Robert Harper, a haberdasher, but for 10 months had been living in London with Stephen Jermyn. The abbreviation "snr" implies that Stephen Jermyn probably had a son also called Stephen.
The source records and what they tell you
The depositions of the Consistory Court of London are held at the London Metropolitan Archives along with the other records of that court.
See Source Record Archives for contact details.
The LMA reference to these records is DL/C 247-253 & 632; the index records give the "DL/C" number and the folio within that set of records, eg: "DL/C 248 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.
Depositions frequently give substantial genealogical and biographical information, which may be difficult or impossible to obtain from any other source. Deponents often gave quite detailed information about themselves before they answered the remaining questions in their deposition; it is this personal information which is included in the index records here. The most informative depositions give the present parish, occupation and age of the deponent and his or her birthplace. They may give the amount of time he or she had spent in the parish, and where they had been before. Married women often state the period of time they had been married. The information is greater, in general, the earlier the deposition, varying however from case to case. Key genealogical information such as birthplace is given fairly commonly in the late seventeenth century, getting rare by the 1730s and unknown in the 1760s. Searchers who do view the original records should also examine the depositions of other witnesses in the case.