The heathland in Sutton Park sometimes catches fire after a dry spell of weather, the fire usually being confined to a small area. The hot dry summer of 1976 was exceptional, when heathland caught fire on August 21st and burned for a week, consuming 450 acres before being brought under control, and the park was closed to the public for a fortnight.
There had been big Park fires before, notably in 1921, but the Great Fire of Sutton Park occurred in 1868. “The fire commenced on the third of July” wrote Riland Bedford “and consumed trees and woods in an area of over 500 acres of Sutton Park. It was not extinguished for several days. The year 1868 was one of great heat and drought, no rain falling between April and August”. This fire, which destroyed Streetly Wood, “was suspected to be the act of an incendiary”.
Convicted fire-raisers were treated severely. At eight o’clock in the morning of Sunday the ninth of June 1821 some men were seen starting a fire. They were seen from the Parson and Clerk pub in Chester Road (then called the Royal Oak) and some new houses nearby. William Atkins, labourer, his son-in-law William Astin, sawyer, and William Lucas of the Royal Oak apprehended four men (a fifth one got away), and the following day John Swift the Park Keeper took them before the magistrates.
The Magistrates (Edward Lambley, Warden of Sutton Coldfield, and Stanley Farmer Steele Perkins of Moat House) heard evidence from a fifteen-year-old boy, William Dawson, son of Thomas Dawson of Sutton, blacksmith. He went with his younger brother to Rowtons Well at five o’clock in the morning. Rowtons Well had a wide reputation for its health-giving properties, and was a place of resort on a Sunday morning. The Dawsons went there to sell articles made by Mrs. Dawson, and William had made a fire to heat coffee “for those that might want it”.
After about one and a half hours Edward Sanders came, took away some burning brands and set fire to a nearby gorse bush. Sanders lay down and went to sleep. “Another lad in a blue coat came and took a stick of fire and put it under Edward Sanders that was asleep”, then three of Sanders’ friends came up, the five men set off, the man in blue started more fires but ran away when the others were caught.
The magistrates found that, of the four, only Edward Sanders could be proved be an incendiary, and he was sent to the House of Correction at Warwick for a whipping and ten days hard labour.