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England Legal Occupations (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Law (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Prior to 1873 the advocate was the equivalent of a solicitor working in the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts on civil cases. They were doctors of law and based on a building called Doctors’ Commons, which name came to be used to denote the whole area south of St. Paul’s Cathedral where the civil lawyers’ chambers, their College of Advocates, and many church courts were located.

Judges[edit | edit source]

Judges were generally appointed from the ranks of top barristers called Serjeants at Law until the mid-19th century. Blanchard (The Judge in Portraits of the English Vol II: Law and Order edited and published by COLLINS, Audrey. 1999. Original published by Robert Tyas, London, 1840) has given us a wonderful period description of the judge.

Magistrates[edit | edit source]

Magistrates had a number of different names—JP (Justice of the Peace), Justice, Stipendiary Magistrate, Stipendiary, Stipes, Police Magistrate, the Bench and the Beak. In the 18th century he had some police functions, was typically not a lawyer but an unpaid laymen, and did not receive any training until fairly recently. As the name indicates, the stipendiary magistrate in a busier court was salaried and legally qualified. He was usually one of the local gentry and appointed for his county by the Crown by a document known as a commission. Magistrates presided over the Quarter Sessions held four times a year, and also over local Petty Sessions where they existed. Gibbens (English Magistrates. Metropolitan (London and North Middlesex Family History Society) Vol 18 #3, page 137-143, 1996) has provided details of their work and records.

From the end of the 15th century until 1858 there existed a society of canon (church) and civil lawyers practicing in the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts, called the College of Advocates, and colloquially called after their building, Doctors’ Commons. Squibb discusses this organization and its few surviving records. In 1739 the Society of Gentleman Practisers in the Courts of Law and Equity was founded and lasted until 1817. Other, local law societies were founded in the late 18th century, and the current Law Society came into being in 1831 and holds various genealogically important records.

Each of the steps of training and admission to various courts etc. generated records and these have been well preserved and condensed into indexes and abstracts. Good general references include Prest (The Professions in Early Modern England. Croom Helm, London. FHL book 942 U2p) on the development of the legal profession from 1500-1750; Camp’s (Records of Lawyers in England and Wales. Family Tree Magazine. Vol 17 #5, page 22-24, 2001) fine overview of the whole profession; and the lawyer Herber’s (Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1999) summary of lawyers and their records, with examples. Holborn (Sources of Biographical Information on Past Lawyers. British and Irish Association of Law Librarians, 1999) is the most comprehensive review of sources (Milliner). There is a Lawyers’ Index and an article by Cockerill (The Cockerill Lawyers’ Index. Escutcheon Cambridge University Heraldry and Genealogy Society Vol 6 #2). The Royal Literary Fund can also be a source for legal authors who had fallen on bad times.

Barristers[edit | edit source]

Records of barristers are not kept at the Public Record Office but at their Inn of Court. Records of admission show their age and the name and address of their father. A number of records of the Inns of Court having genealogical interest have been published and Bevan (Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office. 5th edition. Public Record Office, 1999) and Raymond (Occupational Sources for Genealogists: A Bibliography. Federation of Family History Societies, 1992) list these. Most notable is Foster’s Men at the Bar, which is available on fiche 6028223 (6). This is a biographical list of 1885 barristers including judges , not a text on drunkards!

CHART: Examples from Men at the Bar

DASHWOOD, Charles Henry, a student of the Inner Temple [admitted] 21 Nov 1855 (then aged 22), called to the bar 7 June 1858 (2nd son of the late Rev. Augustus Dashwood of Thornage, Norfolk; born 1833) (see Foster’s Baronetage).

DASHWOOD, Thomas Alexander, M.A. Christ Church, Oxon, 1852, educated at Eton, went to the South-eastern circuit, a student of the Middle Temple [admitted] 8 Mar 1847, went to the Inner Temple 17 Dec 1847, where he was called to the bar 7 June 1850 (eldest son of Thomas John Dashwood Esq. of Canterbury); born 22 Feb 1826; married 3 Oct 1866, Charlotte, dau. of late Rev. Charles Knyvett, rector of Heslerton, Yorks, and has issue (see Foster’s Baronetage). [address] Oakfield, Hitchin.

Solicitors and Attorneys[edit | edit source]

Their articles are at the Public Record Office filed under the Court of Common Pleas (1730-1838), Court of King’s Bench (1775-1875) and some others including the Supreme Court from 1876. They are indexed and show names and addresses of their fathers; for details of these and provincial court articles, plus other material on solicitors kept by the Public Record Office see Bevan (Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office. 5th edition. Public Record Office) and their leaflet D36. From 1710-1811 they may also be found through Inland Revenue apprentice tax records. The annual printed Law List commenced in 1775 and an example from 1812 (on fiche through the Society of Genealogists) is seen below. Later ones show his Inn of Court and career movements, but not age or parentage.

CHART: Example from the Law List 1812

Lists of all types of legal men in London and the ‘country’ and their addresses, London agents for the country attornies, coaches, newspapers, Judges Circuits, principal hotels, taverns, inns, coffee houses, companies’ halls etc. of use to the practicing lawyer.
London Attornies etc.
POYNDER, John, 13 Bridge St., Blackfriars, Clerk to the Bridewell and Bethlem hospitals.
POYNTER, Tho., Doctors Commons, Proctor and Notary
POYTON, Henry, 2 Freeman’s Court, Cornhill.
Country Attornies etc. alphabetically
TOPPING 384, 499 (Refs to towns)
384 = Holbeach, Lincolnshire, 499 = Maisemore near Gloucester
Country Attornies by Town
384 Holbeach, Lincoln 105 (miles from London)
Geo Harvey a) Ed Rushworth attorney and notary b) John F. Hunnings c) Jn Johnson d)
[As Topping is not listed individually in Holbeach I
deduce that he worked for one of these companies.]

Agents: W. Mason a) Wordsworth and Co b)
Holmes and Co c) Morgan and Co d)

Coroner[edit | edit source]

Coroners, formerly crowners, have acted on behalf of the crown since 1194 in investigating unnatural, sudden and suspicious deaths and deaths in prison. Until 1888 most coroners were elected by the freeholders with the election records now held in Chancery Files (C202) at the Record Office. There was a major revision in their duties in 1887 and from 1888 they were appointed by local authorities. Another change took place in 1926 and now they are always either qualified doctors or lawyers (Cole 2002 who recommends Hunnisett). Gibson and Rogers (Coroners’ Records in England and Wales. Federation of Family History Societies, 2000) relate general history of the office and list some records regarding appointments.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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