These Western Circuit civil minute books relate to actions referred from the central courts of common law and from 1875, the High Court of Justice and heard at nisi prius. Before 1832 there are many gaps in the series.
The Corporation of Bristol exceptionally had the right to hold its own sessions of gaol delivery and of oyer and terminer for the city until the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 (5 & 6 Wm IV, c 76), and some records relating to these sessions are held by the Bristol Archives Office. However the civil minutes of the Bristol assizes for summer 1724 are in ASSI 22/2. No further minutes for Bristol appear in these minute books until those for summer 1852 in ASSI 22/18. From 1861 to 1876 it is apparent that separate civil minute books were generally maintained for the Bristol assizes. From 1876 Bristol assize civil minutes are entered in the civil minute books with those of the rest of the circuit. Separate assizes were held for the county of Devon and the city of Exeter.
The minutes in this series are of civil actions heard before the justices of assize at nisi prius having been referred to the assizes by the central courts and, after November 1875, by the appropriate divisions of the High Court. They generally supply for each cause, the names of the plaintiff and defendant, the names of their legal representatives, the nature of the cause, and the verdict or other outcome. Where both rough and fair minutes survive for the same assize the former are generally more detailed. In addition to inserted sheets of rough minutes many of these minute books also contain inserted sheets of correspondence, drafts, notes, receipts, and in some cases, newspaper cuttings of law reports.
The earliest surviving civil minutes are dated 1656. After that date none are extant until 1770, except for those for 1724 to 1725. The minutes for 1801 to 1831 and 1946 to 1971 are also wanting.