William Kirkpatrick Riland Bedford, 1826-92, became Rector of Sutton Coldfield in 1850. He soon became a member of the Warden and Society of Sutton, and served as Warden (equivalent to Mayor) in 1854 and 1855. These were turbulent times for the town, regarded by a later writer as the last days of “old Sutton”. A public meeting attended by 2,000 people had raised a petition calling for the Warden and Society to be replaced by a proper Borough council, and the corporation was also having difficulty coping with the increasing numbers from neighbouring towns visiting Sutton.
A strong body of opinion in the town wanted to keep its quiet genteel character, while a more progressive element was all for moving with the times. Progress was symbolised by railways, and Riland Bedford was active in moves to secure a rail link to Sutton. When it appeared that neither of the two big companies, the Midland Railway and the London and North Western, were prepared to promote a branch line to Sutton, local men set up a provisional board to raise capital and build their own line.
As well as being Rector of Sutton, Riland Bedford was by far the biggest landowner in the town and one of the wealthiest men, so he took his place on the provisional board on 26th September 1857. Before any work on the line could be done the board had to secure an Act of Parliament authorising the line, and so a surveyor was appointed to plan the route. The next step would have been to issue a prospectus and form a proper company, but a special meeting of the provisional board was called for 26th August 1858, at which the Chairman declared that the line surveyed by their surveyor was unsuitable, and that a line further to the east should be adopted.
When the meeting failed to agree to this, those in favour of the eastern route went off, issued their own prospectus, and formed a company. The Rev. Riland Bedford had been away at the seaside with his family on 26th August, but on his return those who favoured the western route rallied to him, and he presided at a public meeting on 23rd September. Soon afterwards a prospectus for the western route was issued and a company formed with Riland Bedford on the Board of Directors. The rival companies divided opinion; Riland Bedford made continual efforts to reconcile the two companies with compromise solutions, but without success.
After this Riland Bedford no longer took a leading role in local politics - he was often ill, and took rest cures on the Continent - he devoted his time in Sutton to encouraging sport such as cricket and archery, and to his developing antiquarian interests, culminating in his scholarly History of Sutton Coldfield of 1891.