Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Ch. 1 Annotation – An Assize Town and Brief Background on Victorian Justice System

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

There is an assize-town in one of the eastern counties…

This fleeting fact foreshadows the moral trial Ruth Hilton will face within the novel. Crimes during the Victorian era were generally dealt within three main courts:

• Magistrates Court for minor offenses and inquiries
• Quarter Sessions, held four times throughout the year
• Assize Courts, held periodically in each county, the most serious of crimes were brought and heavy verdicts, such as life-in-prison or death would be decided, an assize town is where such trials were held.

Ruth’s crime cannot be tried in a court of law but Mrs. Gaskell explores how society will form judgment and either pardon or condemn her.


“Assizes.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assizes&gt;.

“Quarter Sessions – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Sessions&gt;.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kiri says:

    Thank you! I am reading “Ruth” for the first time, and was immediately tripped up by the term “assize-town”. Happily, google led me straight to your post, and I was edified. I will continue to follow your posts about the novel for future benefit as well!

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