The first Warden of the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, named in the Royal Charter, was William Gibbons, who took up office on December 16th 1528. He was to assemble all the men of Sutton over 22 years of age in the newly-built Moot Hall to elect the other twenty four members of the Warden and Society, and this 25-strong body would then choose one of its members to be the next Warden, who would take up office on the following All Saints Day, November 2nd 1529. A new Warden was chosen every November 2nd for the next 357 years.

The Charter specified that the Warden should be chosen after Divine Service celebrated in the Parish Church. In the 1850s “A joyous day was that of Warden’s Choice”, wrote Richard Holbeche, “About 10.00 a.m. the mellow old bells began to ring, and the boys and girls were seen hurrying to the Blue Coat Schools. The Warden was always a gentleman of position and, although everyone knew who was to be elected, it was quite proper to evince anxiety and later surprise. Later, the Warden’s Dinner took place.”

In 1622, when Edward Willoughby was elected Warden, the Election Dinner at £3. 17s. was the most expensive single item in the Corporation accounts. It was more a banquet than a dinner, and must have been a grand affair. The bill for a dinner given for a different occasion at the Canwell Gate Inn on the 17th February 1835 shows what could be provided for £4.10s. 6d. when prices were much higher - twenty dinners for £2, malt liquor for twenty at £2, rum gin and brandy 10s. 6d.

Wardens liked to conduct their meetings in comfort, and in the eighteenth century it was common practice to adjourn from the bleak Moot Hall to the nearest pub. The nearest pub was the Red Lion Hotel (it ceased trading in 1813 and the building was demolished in 1900 to make way for a new building next to Lloyd’s Bank). On March 28th 1747 there was a Coroner’s Inquest at the Red Lion, where it was reported that there had been a Parish Meeting there the previous day. At about ten o’clock at night Thomas Standley the blacksmith left the meeting to answer a call of nature. In passing through the kitchen John Parker the weaver and Dorothy Harbutt widow offered Thomas a drink, but he declined, saying that he was going back into the parlour where the old Warden had promised to treat him. However, he never came back, having fallen into the well in the back yard and drowned.

The old Red Lion, taken by William Grundy, the pioneer photographer who died in 1853 (from the Norman Evans Collection at Sutton Reference Library).