Looking for Thomas Clifton’s house

Thomas Clifton of Coleshill married Elizabeth Curson of Sutton Coldfield in 1646, and came to live with her in her house in Sutton High Street. He was in the cloth trade, being referred to as a Dyer and Shearman, and seems to have prospered; his will, made in 1684, bequeaths his property to his son. The will mentions a newly-built extension to the house, and that there is a room above the entry to the yard.

When the area surrounding the Three Tuns in High Street was redeveloped as offices in the 1980s, the old lane alongside the Three Tuns linking High Street to King Edwards Square, known as Clifton Street, was built over. A map of 1765 shows this lane leading to fields called Cliftons Hills, on the steep slope now occupied by Upper Clifton Road and the Town Hall grounds. This land corresponds to the description of property referred to in Clifton’s will, leading to the supposition that he was the Clifton for whom they were named and that Clifton Street was named after him. His house in High Street was presumably on the corner of Clifton Street.

A house on the northern corner of Clifton Street was demolished for the redevelopment of the site, and amongst the rubble there were bricks dating from the late seventeenth century which could have been used in Thomas Clifton’s extension. But on the other corner of Clifton Street was the Three Tuns, and this seems a more likely location for Thomas Clifton’s house. According to Clifton’s will, his house was in two halves linked by a room spanning the entry, and the part next to Clifton Street was being extended at the time the will was made. If this was Thomas Clifton’s house, the conversion of the building into a hotel by adding an extra storey and a new frontage would have been done early in the eighteenth century.

Part of the process of dying and shearing cloth involved stretching it on apparatus called tenters, with tenterhooks, and this was done in the back yard of Clifton’s house, beside his workshops. Perhaps the cobbled yard of the Three Tuns was once bright with newly dyed cloth.

Victorian High Street, showing the entrance to Clifton Street between the Three Tuns and the building to the right. Photo courtesy Sutton Reference Library