The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield was governed by the Warden and Society, a body of twenty-five men equivalent to a Mayor and Corporation. Their rule came under the scrutiny of the Court of Chancery, and the court issued an order in 1824 setting out how the income of the town was to be spent in the best interests of the populace. This order included a provision that £31 per annum must be paid for the services of a surgeon to vaccinate the children.

Parish registers for Sutton were kept from 1565, recording all the baptisms, marriages and burials. For two and a half centuries, every third burial recorded was that of a child, and this was a relatively healthy town - in many places the rate of infant mortality was higher still. The appointment of the surgeon in 1824 improved the situation in Sutton, along with some of the other provisions of the Order - “childbed linen is provided for the use of the poor married women, and a surgeon to attend them in childbed” declared the Town Clerk in 1855.

As the population of Sutton grew, so public health became more of an issue, with declining water quality and the town’s stream, the E Brook, resembling an open sewer in the 1870s. When the Borough of Sutton Coldfield was established with a new Charter and an elected corporation in 1885, a Medical Officer of Health was appointed, and his annual reports show that pure water, good drainage and dry houses were achieving much better public health.

Illness created great misery for those who could not afford doctors’ fees or the price of drugs, but from the late Victorian period most Suttonians paid an annual subscription to the Provident Dispensary. Many of the Sutton doctors gave part of their time to consultations at the dispensary, which stood on the corner of Rectory Road and Coleshill Road, and the medicines they prescribed were dispensed there. Finally, in 1946, a maternity hospital was set up in a converted mansion at Oakhurst in Anchorage Road, and high rates of infant mortality became a thing of the past.

Oakhurst maternity hospital.