AMONG the County Records in the Kent Archives Office,
County Hall, Maidstone, is a very large series of account books and
papers of insolvent debtors covering the first half of the nineteenth
century in date.1 The survival of such a group as this
appears to be unique among County Records, and should provide an
interesting source of information concerning the small tradesman and
businessman of one particular area in the early nineteenth century. The
records of large and important businesses with a continuous history have
a good chance of survival, but the records of the small tradesman,
particularly if unsuccessful, are not so easily found, a fact which adds
to the importance of this collection.
From the end of the seventeenth century Acts of Parliament
for the relief of insolvent debtors were passed regularly, the execution
of these Acts being carried out by the Courts of Quarter Sessions. In
1820, by an Act of 1 George IV c. 119, a change was made in the
system and a new court called "The Court for Relief of Insolvent
Debtors" was set up, three commissioners being appointed to preside
over it. The court could direct final examinations of debtors to be
taken at Quarter Sessions and it is
probable that much of its work was delegated to the justices in Quarter
Sessions. In 1824, however, an amending Act was passed (5 George IV, c.
61), and the jurisdiction of the justices in Quarter Sessions over
insolvent debtors was ended. The number of commissioners was increased
from three to four and the commissioners were to make circuits separately
to hold courts. The clerk of the peace or his deputy was to attend the
courts held in his county and to act as clerk to the commissioner.
Schedules and books belonging to debtors were to be lodged with the clerk
of the peace so that they could be inspected by creditors.
This Act appears to be the origin of the formation of the
collection under consideration and thus these documents and books of
insolvent debtors are, strictly speaking, records of the clerk of the
peace and not of Quarter Sessions. The bulk of the books and papers were
filed with the clerk of the peace between 1830 and 1846, though the
outside dates of deposit, as far as can be ascertained are 1825 and 1856.
1 Ref. Q/CI.