England’s Royal Town approved

on Dec 26 in Uncategorized by

On Thursday, 12 June 2014, the Rt Hon Greg Clarke MP, Minister of State, confirmed in the House of Commons on behalf of the Government that the people of Sutton Coldfield can make use of the title, the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, and this will be recorded for posterity in Hansard.

The Minister’s ruling confirms that Sutton Coldfield has continued to be a Royal Town since 1528 and in the words of Henry VIII, it will be so “forever”.

The Government’s announcement followed a campaign by the town’s MP, Andrew Mitchell, vigorously supported by the Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer newspaper, in response to a request for reinstatement made by Nick Corbett of Transforming Cities in 2008.

A recently erected Royal Town sign.

King Henry VIII signed the Royal Charter for Sutton Coldfield in 1528 and decreed, “And that the same town and village shall forever hereafter be accounted, named, and called, The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, in our County of Warwick.”

The people of Sutton Coldfield have campaigned for the official reinstatement of the Royal Town name for over a century.

Government files, available in the National Archives at Kew, reveal civil servants in the Home Office wrongly claimed Sutton Coldfield lost its ancient royal town title when it became a Borough Council under the Municipal Corporation Act of 1883.

There were subsequently two unsuccessful applications to reinstate the Royal Town name. The first application was in 1911 when the Sutton Coldfield Borough Council instructed its Town Clerk to apply to the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill, (later Prime Minister), but the Town Clerk erroneously applied for Sutton Coldfield to be a royal borough. Sutton Coldfield had no historical claim to be a royal borough, it had been a unique Royal Town, and so Winston Churchill refused to make a favourable recommendation to the King.

The second failed application was made in 1973 when the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield applied to reinstate the Royal Town name, but this was at a time when the Sutton Coldfield Borough Council was due to be abolished and the town amalgamated with Birmingham City Council. As such, due to the timing, the legitimacy of the request was questioned, and the Secretary of State refused to make a favourable recommendation to the Queen.

Bishop Vesey, Sutton Coldfield’s great benefactor

The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield name was originally requested by John Harman, who became Bishop Vesey, and was a friend of King Henry VIII. Vesey was born at Moor Hall Farm in Sutton Coldfield. He became a visionary statesman who attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit in France with Henry VIII, and Francois I, King of France.

When Vesey returned from the Field of the Cloth of Gold he found his hometown of Sutton Coldfield had gone into decline. He requested the Royal Charter from the King which gifted the Royal Town name together with a vast royal forest; the 2400 acre Sutton Park survives much as it was when Henry VIII reputedly hunted in it.

The ancient Forest of Arden, Warwickshire, with which Sutton Coldfield shares heritage.

Vesey knew what the potential strengths of his hometown were, for example it had a vast forest and chase full of game – but local people weren’t allowed to hunt in it or even to take fire wood. It had a favourable location in the middle of England – but it lacked a market place, pavements and bridges.

Vesey decided to rebuild Sutton Coldfield upon a set of principles that would address people’s needs. He encapsulated his strategy in a Royal Charter and a series of measures equivalent to a masterplan.

A surviving signs from when Sutton Coldfield was an independent borough.

Bishop Vesey become very wealthy as the Bishop of Exeter and he funnelled the riches of Devon back into delivering his plan for Sutton Coldfield, (he was not very popular in Devon).

Vesey’s visionary town and country planning for Sutton Coldfield included:

1: Establishing Sutton Park as royal forest from which Sutton’s residents could take timber and hunt;

2: The Royal Town status;

3: Investing in public realm, with a new market place, paved streets and bridges (the river bridge that Vesey built at Water Orton, before Shakespeare was born, still carries modern traffic);

4: Investing in design excellence, including the construction of 51 new homes, possibly one for every family in the town, some of the houses are still occupied after more than 500 years;

5: Sutton’s excellent Grammar School, which has educated thousands of pupils;

6: A unique system of local town government, with a Warden and Society, to ensure local people could determine their own future rather than having decisions imposed upon them from afar;

7: An endowment fund made up of Bishop Vesey’s land and property, now the Sutton Coldfield Municipal Charities, it is worth around £40 million.

A surviving sign at Holy Trinity Church, Sutton Coldfield, where John Harman, Bishop Vesey, is buried.

In 2014, over 10,000 residents from Sutton Coldfield signed a petition requesting a new Town Council under Localism legislation, and this has initiated Birmingham’s current Governance Review. Could this be an awakening of Vesey’s vision for his beloved town?

Further details of the Sutton Coldfield Town Council campaign see: www.suttoncoldfieldtowncouncil.com

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