In 1778 three of the biggest local landowners, Mr. Hackett of Moxhull, Sir Joseph Scott of Great Barr, and Mr Richard Bisse Riland, Rector of Sutton Coldfield, drew up a plan to enclose the commons of Sutton Coldfield. Sutton had very extensive commons where everyone had rights and no-one could own any land, but enclosure would mean that the commons would be divided up. Everyone who had rights on the commons would receive an amount of land to be their own private property, and the latest farming techniques could then be applied. The land would be more productive, and everyone would benefit.
So the promoters of the scheme said as they asked all the other owners of property in Sutton for support - they needed a majority in favour before they could proceed to apply to Parliament. But as news of the scheme spread so opposition grew. People were proud of their rights of common, and did not want Sutton Park to be destroyed, as the plan proposed. Printed sheets of propaganda were circulated, most of them in the form of lyrics to be sung to popular tunes. “Bishop Vesey’s Ghost to the Rector of Sutton” began -
Cease, hard-hearted, cruel Rector
Give inclosing projects o’er,
Hear for once a midnight lecture,
Never strive to rob the poor.” ( Tune - Welcome, Welcome, Brother Debtor)
Another, sung to the tune of Hearts of Oak, had a chorus:
In support of our CHARTER with Hearts undismay’d
We’ll bid bold defiance
To ev’ry Alliance
That’s planned or intended our RIGHTS to invade.
By such kinds of methods have thousands been fob’d,
A few may be serv’d but the Public is rob’d
And was not SELF INTEREST a part of his CREED
The PR**ST (priest) would not wish for the plan to succeed”
Supporters of the plan also had their songs, stressing the benevolence of the promoters and the ingratitude of the opponents: (tune - A Cobbler there was and he lived in his stall)
Then a fig for old H*****T (Hackett), whose bountiful door
Incessantly opens, a friend to the poor;
Our minds will ne’er change, of our good we’ll ne’er think,
At least while the Warden supplies us with drink.”
The protest songs won the day, the scheme was dropped when the Corporation voted to oppose it, the commons survived for another fifty years, and we still have Sutton Park.