|Administrative / biographical background:
From a survey drawn up in 1166 it can be shown that the eastern and northern part of the city of Canterbury had been divided into the wards of Northgate, Burgate and Newingate. The wards of Ridingate, Worthgate and Westgate were in existence at the end of the twelfth century, and it is reasonable to assume that the city was divided into the six wards at one and the same time. Dr William Urry suggests that the ward may have had its origin in the Assize of Clarendon, 1166.
The London wards were more or less urban versions of the rural hundreds. The Canterbury wards give the impression that they were copied bodily from their London counterparts. The function of the Canterbury wards suggests that these six areas were civic hundreds. The word hundredum is often used to describe the wards. However, the term 'ward' is not found used in Canterbury until the fifteenth century, and the term may then have been copied from London. The first term noticed in Canterbury is bertha which may be cognate with the Saxon borg or borh, and used as a subdivision of the hundred. The word is found in use as late as 1400.
The six wards were named after the six gates of the city (William Urry, Canterbury Under the Angevin Kings, London 1967, pp92-104): Newingate [St George's gate], Ridingate, Worthgate, Westgate, Northgate and Burgate. The two juries presented information from two groups of wards: Newingate, Ridingate and Worthgate; and Westgate, Northgate and Burgate. There was also occasionally a jury for the shire, or the corpus of the city as it was sometimes called; and very occasionally a jury for the borough of St Martin (see JQ/310 xxx: The borough of St Martin was outside the city of Canterbury and in the county of Kent).
The focus of ward activity was its court, undoubtedly as old as the ward itself. The chief officer of the court was the alderman. This system was carried over into the Court of Quarter Session when it was established in 1461, so that there was always a system of making presentments from the wards to the new court. Urry himself says that the Canterbury Court of Quarter sessions grew out of the old View of Frankpledge (see JQ/310 xxx: The borough of St Martin was outside the city of Canterbury and in the county of Kent).The word sessio is used as early as November 1474.
The first Court of Quarter Session was held in 1461 when the Yorkist contender, Edward IV, created the City of Canterbury a county of itself in return for financial and loyal support given him during the Wars of the Roses against the Lancastrian contender, Henry VI. Mention is made in the city accounts of white roses made for the citizens to wear at this time. This court was separate from those of East and West Kent which were held in Canterbury castle and Maidstone respectively. The Court of Quarter Sessions for Canterbury was held in the Guildhall in Canterbury.
Four sessions were held. The mayor of Canterbury was elected in November. and for the purposes of the court the year was deemed to start at this point. The first session was usually held in December, January or February; and the other three in March, April or May; June, July or August; and September, October or November. Until 1649 the first day of the year was 25 March. During the period of the Commonwealth the calendar was altered to make 1 January the first day of the year, and because of this sessions were regularised and held in January, March, July and September. After the restoration of the monarchy the calendar was again altered so that the year began as previously on 25 March. Sessions were then held in December, May, July and October. This continued until 1752 when the beginning of the year was again altered to 1 January, to begin on 1 January 1753. It is not, however, until quite late in the eighteenth century that Quarter Sessions were held as in the period of the Commonwealth. Between 1874-1893 Quarter Sessions were named after the legal terms of Epiphany, Easter or Lent (depending on the date of Easter), Midsummer and Michaelmas, but effectively were held at the same times as before. When Mayor-making was changed from November to May in 1949 this made little or no difference to the holding of quarter sessions.
The last court was held in 1971. The old city of Canterbury was abolished under the Local Government Reorganisation Act of 1972 in favour of a District Council incorporating within it Canterbury City, Whitstable and Herne Bay Urban District Councils, and Bridge Blean Rural District Council. In 1974, after representations to the government, the new District Council was created a city. It was one of only 47 new cities to be so established by charter at this time, but even so did not regain its power to hold Quarter Sessions which it lost to the County of Kent.