Records of the Coroner for Eastern Sussex

This record is held by East Sussex Record Office

Details of Records of the Coroner for Eastern Sussex
Title: Records of the Coroner for Eastern Sussex
Reference: COR
Description:

Table of Contents

 

Introduction (below)

 

COR/1 Records of the coroner of the Western (Lewes) District, 1903-1997

 

COR/2 Records of the coroner of the Eastern (Rye) District, 1960-1997

 

COR/3 Records of the coroner of the Borough of Brighton, 1882-1974

Date: 1817-2003
Held by: East Sussex Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Selection and destruction information:

Selection

 

The recommendations for the appraisal of coroners' records contained in the Home Office circular HO 250 have not been followed by East Sussex Record Office, except as regards papers created in cases in which no inquest was held; these are destroyed after 15 years in accordance with the circular with the exception of those preserved as COR/1/4 (Lewes District, 1903, 1914-1927) and COR/3/3 (Brighton, 1901-1918).

 

All inquest papers later in date than 1945 are appraised according to the following rules:

 

1 The inquest paper and police report form, or the latter only when it is annotated with the verdict, are retained in all cases. These documents give a good summary of the circumstances of the death and considerable biographical detail concerning the deceased.

 

2 Apart from the papers in 1 above, all road traffic accident and geriatric case inquests are destroyed, with the exception of photographs of topographical interest, the existence of which needs to be flagged on the list.

 

3 Accidental death inquests, including industrial accidents, are purposively sampled.

 

4 All suicide and open verdict inquests are retained in their entirety, stripped of duplicates and copies.

 

It is intended to subject the papers to further review at date + 70 to prepare them for release when the 75-year closure period has expired.

Administrative History:

This list covers the records produced by the coroners of the Eastern and Western (formerly Lewes and Rye) Districts of East Sussex until the re-organisation of districts on the creation of the Brighton and Hove Council in April 1997. It also includes the surviving records of the coroner for the Borough of Brighton between the creation of that office in 1854 and its abolition in 1974. Other records of the former Rye District, and of the Franchise coroner for the Rape of Hastings, are listed as MIB and SHE respectively; for details, see below.

 

The office of coroner in East Sussex from 1194

 

The study of the history of the office of coroner has been greatly advanced by R F Hunnisett, whose book The Medieval Coroner (Cambridge, 1961) has been followed by articles and editions of documents relating to many different parts of the country.

 

The Medieval Coroner was based on Hunnisett's Oxford D Phil Thesis, 'The Medieval Coroner 1194-1487, with particular reference to the county of Sussex', and this county, which is his own, has been particularly well-served in the author's work. Between 1957 and 1960 were published his articles 'Sussex Coroners in the Middle Ages' (SAC 95: 42-58, 96: 17-34, 98: 44-70) which incorporate calendars of all surviving Sussex coroners' cases before 1500 then known and a list of county and franchise coroners and their clerks, with an essay on jurisdictions. In 1964, another article, 'The last Sussex abjurations', appeared in the county journal (SAC 102: 39-51). Finally 'Sussex Coroners' Inquests 1485-1558' was published by the Sussex Record Society (SRS 74) in 1985, and two continuation volumes to 1688, published by the Public Record Office, appeared in 1996 (1558-1603) and 1998 (1603-1688). A volume on East Sussex Coroners' Bills, 1752-1830, is in active preparation.

 

Jurisdictions and districts

 

Although Sussex was a single county until 1974 it has always been administered in two divisions, east and west. To this rule the coronership was no exception: two coroners were appointed for the county at large but were in practice limited to one division or another. This simple pattern is complicated, particularly in the eastern division, by the existence of many private franchises the lords of which either had or claimed exemption from royal control and accordingly the right to appoint coroners; chief among them were the Cinque Ports. Table one shows the more important jurisdictions, their starting date, either known or implied, and the date at which they merged with the county coronership. In 1891 the eastern division coronership was split into two districts. Their areas were adjusted in 1940, 1974 and 1986 when the imbalance between the two districts, which owed its ultimate origin to the exemption of Hastings Rape from the county jurisdiction, was rectified by a re-alignment of district boundaries which, as has been the case almost invariably in the past, coincided with a change of coroner.

 

The Borough of Brighton acquired its own coroner on incorporation in 1854 and the office survived until the abolition of County Boroughs in April 1974; from that date, Brighton inquests were held by the Lewes-based coroner. On the creation of the Brighton and Hove Authority in 1997, the area once more gained its own coroner, the Lewes office was closed and the reduced area of East Sussex placed under the jurisidiction of a county coroner based at St Leonards.

 

The non-borough private jurisdictions in Hastings Rape, which were the only ones to survive into the modern periods, were originally hundredal or tenurial in their application: the bishop of Chichester's coroner, for example, was accustomed to sit wherever the bishop had tenants and can be found holding inquests at Heathfield (as part of Bishopstone hundred) in 1502 (SRS 74.11).

 

By the nineteenth century however, and until the surrender of the franchise coronership in 1940, the boundaries of the jurisdictions of each franchise were deemed to be co-terminous with those of any of the parishes within them. In that way the franchise jurisdictions, which were held jointly by the Hastings Rape coroner from at least 1830, were unexpectedly augmented for the sake of administrative convenience.

 

The different jurisdictions extant in 1832 and 1834 with the names of the officeholders (for which the eastern division returns survive locally: QCR 1/5/1) were printed as Parliamentary Papers and the position in 1895 was similarly described (S and B Webb, English Local Government ... The Parish and The County (1906) p292 n2).

 

The Coroners Amendment Act of 1926 (16-17 G5 c59) provided (s4) for the abolition of the rights of franchise-owners to appoint coroners from the date of the next vacancy; in East Sussex that occurred in 1940.

 

Records

 

Table 2, which is presented in the order of the size of the jurisdictions with cross-references to table 1, lists the records which have survived for and attempts to describe the extent of each jurisdiction at its abolition or cessation.

 

The local preservation of coroners' records has been extremely poor and for the greatest part of the history of the office, only those inquests which were returned into the central courts have survived. The following list attempts a summary of the more obvious classes in which coroners' cases may be found or mentioned; it is referred to in table two by the inclusion of the appropriate letter after the heading Records of Supervisory Courts.

 

Central Supervision

 

A 1194-1487

 

Coroners' rolls were inspected by the justices in eyre and any outstanding cases dealt with. After the end of the eyres the court of king's bench was able to call for a particular case by writ and gaol delivery justices tried prisoners indicted on the strength of an inquest. Although details of the cases mostly survive in summary form on the rolls of the appropriate court, a few coroners' inquests (and for other counties entire rolls) are preserved; the Sussex ones were printed by Hunnisett in SAC 95, 96 and 98.

 

B 1487-1700

 

By virtue of an act in 1487 (3H7 c2), all coroners' inquests were to be handed to gaol delivery justices and either filed by them (if the inquest resulted in the arraignment of a prisoner before them) on the assize file (PRO ASS1 35 for the home circuit) or passed for filing on the indictment files of the court of king's bench (KB 9).

 

Inquests continue to be found on KB 9 until about 1700 and on ASS1 35 until that class ends in 1971. It seems to be the case, at least at the end of the seventeenth century, that inquests contained on the assize files are not strictly limited to those found in cases of homicide but include cases of suicide and misadventure. The nomina ministrorum membrane of the assize file also names both county and liberty coroners.

 

Since the liberty of the Five Ports (6-10) was not visited by gaol delivery justices the statute did not apply to those areas; it did apply however to areas within the jurisdiction of franchise coroners (4, 11-17).

 

The operation of this statute is more fully described by R F Hunnisett in Sussex Record Society 74, an edition of the Sussex inquests surviving between 1485 and 1558, almost all of which owe their preservation to it. For Sussex inquests on the assize files, 1558-1625, see Calendar of Assize Records: Sussex Indictments (2 vols HMSO, 1975) and for a list of inquests on prisoners dying in home circuit gaols, 1558-1625, see Calendar of Assize Records: Introduction (HMSO, 1985), pp145-171.

 

C 1752-1861

 

By an act in 1752, coroners were allowed a fee of £1 for each inquest held outside gaols and 9d a mile for travelling to (but not return from) the body. The fees were allowed by the justices at quarter sessions and were limited to inquests held in areas which contributed to the county rate.

 

The system is fully described by Hunnisett in Wiltshire Record Society 36, an edition of the bills for that county between 1752 and 1796. The Sussex bills are to be found on the sessions rolls (QR) between 1752 and a date in the 1820s; thereafter totals only appear in the treasurers' accounts (QAF/2/1) until 1861, when the system was abolished and coroners became salaried officials. Bills of one coroner for 1815-1817 were found to be fraudulent and were removed from the rolls and filed with the papers relating to his indictment for malversation (QCC/2). An edition of these bills by Dr Hunnisett is in active preparation; a draft is available in the searchroom.

 

The act of 1752 also applied within boroughs, and similar accounts are to be found in the records of Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea. The costs of inquests were met from the ordinary income of those boroughs until 1822, when 'a rate in the nature of a county rate' began to be raised. According to the report of the Municipal Corporations Commission on Winchelsea (WIN/616/3), the rate had been levied to maintain the gaol, deal with the increase in inquests and other criminal business brought about by smuggling, the introduction of the blockade system and by suicides in that service. The town clerk sought the assistance of John Tompsett, town clerk of Hastings, in the forms and precedents necessary for levying the rate; for their correspondence, see WIN/1559-1561. A similar expedient was employed by Rye at the same time: for details, see RYE/74.

 

D 1861-date

 

The court of quarter sessions and, after 1888, the County Council, was responsible for the engagement and local supervision of coroners. References to administrative documents of the court concerning the coronership may be found in A Descriptive Report on the Quarter Sessions ... of East and West Sussex (Lewes 1954).

 

On its inception in 1888 East Sussex County Council established a joint committee with West Sussex County Council to administer areas of joint responsibility including the office of coroner; for its minutes, see C/C/12/2 and for a letterbook and scrapbook, see C/C/30, 31. In 1890 a committee was established to regulate the divisions and salaries of coroners. It met until 1892: for its minutes, see C/C/11/17 and for correspondence, 1889-1893 see C/C/83/1.

 

The joint committee ceased to meet in 1905 and coroners' business was subsequently handled by the finance and general purposes committee (C/C/11/3) and was one of the functions transferred to the newly formed general purposes committee (C/C/11/67) in 1931. Since 1974 the business has been handled by the public protection committee (R/C/20/8/1).

 

The coroners submitted annual reports to these committees, and a printed form was prepared for their use; for an example from 1921, see COR/1/8/1. The reports could be very detailed; in his report for 1929, the Lewes District coroner gave a detailed account of a treasure trove inquest, and treated the committee to his opinion of the causes of changing trends in suicide cases (COR/1/8/5 is a copy).

 

A circular of March 1942 advised the destruction of inquests before 1928 for war salvage. Both the Lewes District coroner and the franchise coroner of the Rape of Hastings followed its suggestions. It seems that there was little to destroy at Lewes, but on 6 March 1942 the Hastings Rape coroner handed inquests for 1868-1926 to the Battle postmaster; only his receipt remains (SHE/2/8/10).

 

TABLE 1: the more important jurisdictions, their starting date, either known or implied, and the date at which they merged with the main county coronership.

 

Serial numbers correspond to those in Table 2 following

 

1 County - Eastern Division divided into Lewes and Rye Districts in 1891

 

2 County - Western (Lewes) District created from the Eastern Division in 1891; augmented by Brighton Borough in 1974

 

3 County - Eastern (Rye) District created from the Eastern Division in 1891; augmented by the Hastings Rape franchise in 1940 and by Hastings Borough and parts of the Lewes District in 1977

 

4 Hastings Rape held jointly with 11-15 from before 1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

5 Brighton Borough created 1854; merged with the Lewes District in 1974

 

6 Hastings Borough merged with the Rye District in 1977

 

7 Pevensey Borough merged with the Eastern Division 1886 and with the Lewes District on its creation in 1891

 

8 Rye Borough merged with the Eastern Division 1888 and with the Rye District on its creation in 1891

 

9 Seaford Borough merged with the Eastern Division 1886 and with the Lewes District on its creation in 1891

 

10 Winchelsea Borough merged with the Eastern Division 1886 and with the Rye District on its creation in 1891

 

11 Hundred of Battle held by the Hastings Rape coroner from c1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

12 Hundred of Foxearle held by the Hastings Rape coroner from c1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

13 Hundred of Gostrow held by the Hastings Rape coroner from c1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

14 Bishop of Chichester held by the Hastings Rape coroner from c1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

15 Hundred of Robertsbridge held by the Hastings Rape coroner from c1830; merged with the Rye District 1940

 

16 Archbishop of Canterbury merged with the Eastern Division c1600

 

17 Duchy of Lancaster merged with the Eastern Division c1600

 

TABLE 2

 

JURISDICTION 1 County - Eastern Division

 

Dates: 1194-1891

 

Area: The whole of the Eastern Division except 4-17; includes 16 from 1550s, 17 from c1600, 7, 9 and 10 from 1886 and 8 from 1888

 

Supervision: A B C D

 

Surviving documents: single inquest, 1398: ESRO AMS 5592/114; note of single inquest, c1548: ESRO SAS/CP/183 f75v

 

JURISDICTION 2 County - Western (Lewes) District

 

Dates: 1891-1997

 

Area: Lewes and Pevensey rapes; includes 5 from Apr 1974; Mid-Sussex parishes transferred to Horsham District of West Sussex, Apr 1974 and parts to the Rye District in 1977

 

Supervision: D

 

Surviving documents: inquest papers (including depositions and PMs), 1903-1927, 1938-1985; Home Office returns, 1915-1947; Coroner's Daily Record, 1948-1985; ESRO COR/1

 

JURISDICTION 3 County - Eastern (Rye) District

 

Dates: 1891-1997

 

Area: Boroughs of Rye and Winchelsea and parts of parishes of Pett and Broomhill; includes 4, 11-15 from 1960 and 6 from 1977

 

Supervision: D

 

Surviving documents: inquest papers, 1940-1960 ESRO SHE; registers of reported deaths and inquest papers, 1960-1984 ESRO MIB

 

JURISDICTION 4 Rape of Hastings

 

Dates: 1455-1940

 

Area: The whole rape except 11-13, 8, 10, 14-15 in which however the franchise coroner acted, from 1830 at least, by virtue of separate appointments

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: single inquests kept as precedents, 1759-1845; Home Office and Quarter Sessions returns, 1827-1862; counterfoil orders for burial, 1838-1852; inquest papers with depositions, 1848, 1849, 1859-1866; inquest papers with depositions and PMs, 1925-1940;

 

JURISDICTION 5 Borough of Brighton

 

Dates: 1854-1974

 

Area: The Borough of Brighton

 

Supervision: D

 

Surviving documents: inquest papers with depositions and PMs, 1901-1906, 1908-1974; non-inquest cases, 1901-1918, Coroner's Daily Record, May 1936 - Mar 1974; register of deaths reported to the Coroner 1953 - Mar 1974: COR/3

 

JURISDICTION 6 Borough of Hastings

 

Dates: 1194-1977

 

Area: The Borough of Hastings and Liberties

 

Supervision:

 

Surviving documents: inquests, 1665, 1667 (2), 1771: Hastings Museum, C/B K 1-4; inquest papers, with depositions and PMs, 1960 - Mar 1977: ESRO MIB; coroners' bills, 1818-1870: ESRO PAR 367/26/1

 

JURISDICTION 7 Borough of Pevensey

 

Dates: 1194-1886

 

Area: The Borough of Pevensey and Liberties

 

Supervision:

 

Surviving documents: inquest papers with depositions, 1754-1884: ESRO PEV 409-485

 

JURISDICTION 8 Borough of Rye

 

Dates: 1194-1888

 

Area: The Borough of Rye and Liberties

 

Supervision: D

 

Surviving documents: single inquest, 1487 ESRO RYE/60/3, f63v; single inquest, 1530 RYE 60/5, f195; inquests entered in assembly minutes, 1547-c1660 RYE/1; inquest papers with depositions 1608-1855 RYE/32; Coroner's precedent book, 1806-c1825 ESRO SHE/2/12; inquests, 1857-1870, 1895-1935 ESRO DAP/302; notes on coroners' expenses, 1844-1863 RYE/70/9; appointments, 1891-1932 DAP/301/3

 

JURISDICTION 9 Borough of Seaford

 

Dates: 1194-1886

 

Area: The Borough of Seaford and Liberties

 

Supervision:

 

Surviving documents: note of a single inquest, nd, pre-1573: ESRO SEA/5; inquest expenses, 1847-1851 SEA/325-327

 

JURISDICTION 10 Borough of Winchelsea

 

Dates: 1194-1886

 

Area: The Borough of Winchelsea and Liberties

 

Supervision: D

 

Surviving documents: single inquest, 1582 ESRO WIN/53 f176; inquest papers, 1775-1884 WIN/513-606; Home Office returns and counterfoil books, 1873-1885 WIN/607-612; vouchers for jury expenses, 1824-1867 WIN/613; inquests, 1816-1856 ESRO DAP/70/1, 319/3

 

JURISDICTION 11 Liberty of Battle

 

Dates: 1255-1940

 

Area: The parish of Battle

 

Supervision: A B C D

 

Surviving documents: single inquests, 1486, 1507 Huntington Library BA Vol 5, 2232, 2484; see 5 above, with which the coronership was held by virtue of a separate appointment, for later records

 

JURISDICTION 12 Hundred of Foxearle

 

Dates: ?1436-1940

 

Area: The parishes of Ashburnham, Herstmonceux and Wartling

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: See 5 above

 

JURISDICTION 13 Hundred of Gostrow

 

Dates: 1448-1940

 

Area: The parishes of Brede and Udimore

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: See 5 above

 

JURISDICTION 14 Bishop of Chichester's Liberty

 

Dates: 1502-1940

 

Area: The parish of Bexhill

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: See 5 above

 

JURISDICTION 15 Hundred of Robertsbridge

 

Dates: -1940

 

Area: The parish of Salehurst

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: See 5 above

 

JURISDICTION 16 Archbishop of Canterbury Liberty

 

Dates: 1463-1526

 

Area: The parishes of Buxted Cliffe, Framfield, Glynde, South Malling, Mayfield, Ringmer and Uckfield

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents:

 

JURISDICTION 17 Duchy of Lancaster

 

Dates: by 1479-c1600

 

Area: The rape of Pevensey except 7, 9 and 16 above

 

Supervision: B C D

 

Surviving documents: two inquests, 1577: ESRO SAS/ACC 3597/8

Subjects:
  • East Sussex
  • Sussex
  • Lewes, East Sussex
  • Rye, East Sussex
  • Brighton, East Sussex
  • Death
Creator Names:
  • Coroner for Eastern Sussex, 1194-
  • Coroner of the Western (Lewes) District of East Sussex, 1891-1997
  • Coroner of the Eastern (Rye) District of East Sussex, 1891-1997
  • Coroner of the Borough of Brighton, 1854-1974
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