When ownership of Sutton Park passed to the corporation of the newly created royal town of Sutton Coldfield in 1528 the value of the grazing there was assessed at eleven pounds a year. After the town’s benefactor, Bishop Vesey, improved the park it was worth much more, but the town still was still paying the crown £11 a year for the herbage of the Park in 1800.

The Warden and Society controlled the grazing in the park by periodically rounding up all the animals so that their owners could be identified and a small fee received. These round-ups were called drifts, the cattle being driven across Wyndley Pool dam and up Wyndley Lane to the Driffold (drift fold). The period until the next drift was known as a stage, so a farmer would take some cattle away from the Driffold and put some more in for the next stage. In 1622 the Warden, Edward Willughby, collected over £23 for the herbage of the park (i.e. the grazing fees) and held drifts at Martinmas, Christmas, Holyrood, Lammas and Michaelmas (November 11th, December 25th, May 3rd, August 1st, September 25th.)

Suttonians valued the privilege of park grazing. Three yeomen of Sutton, William Twamley, Richard Kesterton and Isaac Terry were accustomed to put horses into Sutton Park to graze, paying the Warden and Society tenpence a stage. In 1787 the Warden started to charge 18d. a stage, and our three yeomen, together with Joseph Grange, a cordwainer, objected to this and appealed to the courts, saying that the 10d. charge was enshrined in the town’s Charter of 1528 and could not be altered. They won their case.

At an Inquiry in 1855 it was said that the Park was for poor inhabitants, to send their cattle into it; it had pasturage for horses and cattle, but not sheep. The Borough Surveyor reported in 1894 that £68 6s 8d was received for depasturing 507 cows, 197 horses and 29 asses.

For centuries the herds of grazing animals had preserved the open character of the park by eating off the seedling trees. More recently there have been too few cattle to prevent the growth of trees, with the result that areas of heath and rough grassland have degenerated into scrubland. A programme of heathland regeneration is now under way, including the introduction of Exmoor ponies and a larger herd of cattle, so that the park should remain as Bishop Vesey left it.

Grazing animals prevent the spread of scrubland in Sutton Park (photo by Roy Billingham)