“On Sunday afternoon last the Birmingham Battalion of Rifle Volunteers marched back again, after a week spent under canvas in Sutton Park” reported the Sutton Coldfield and Erdington News on July 3rd 1889. The Birmingham Battalion, founded in 1879, used Sutton Park for a week’s training each year. There was also a company of the Sutton Coldfield Volunteers, founded in 1880, comprising F Company of the South Staffordshire Rifles - they held their annual camp in Sandwell Park.

The highlight of the week of exercises in Sutton Park was a sham fight - the one on 30th June 1881, when the Birmingham Volunteers successfully defended their camp against an attacking force (including the Sutton Volunteers) was attended by over 6,000 spectators.

An important part of training for the volunteers was rifle practice, particularly the ability to fire accurately at long range. Accordingly, a public appeal for funds was made, and a range constructed in the Longmoor Valley at Sutton Park. This consisted of a target area with marker posts at the firing points - the firing points at 500 yards and 600 yards were eventually fenced off and provided with benches. The target area, known as the butts, had a large concrete-lined trench giving shelter to the scorers, the targets being raised up above the parapet. It was backed by a 20-foot high bank of earth.

When the range was in use a look-out boy blew a whistle and raised a flag. Despite these precautions, as Mr. Stanley and friends were walking in the park in May 1893 a stray bullet whizzed past them - Mr. Stanley complained, and the precautions were strengthened. However, the Army Inspector visited the range in 1894, and found it unsafe -new regulations required a 45-foot high bank behind the targets and a space 1300 yards behind to be kept clear of the public (just where the new golf course was, opened in 1893).

No more shots were fired, the Volunteers gave up the rifle range to the Park and Estates Committee of Sutton Corporation in May 1895, and the Borough Surveyor levelled the firing points. Only the butts and the wooded bank behind them remain.

(Article based on research by Mike Hinson),

The old rifle butts in Sutton Park, near Lord Donegal’s Ride, looking towards Royal Oak Gate.