The Corporation (Warden and Society) of Sutton Coldfield held its monthly meetings in the Moot Hall. By the 1850s the ancient structure was showing signs of collapse, and the Warden’s Minutes for 1854 show increasing concern; in April it was resolved “That steps be taken for the necessary repairs”; in May £100 was voted for the cost of repairs; on July 10th £250 was voted; and on August 28th the decision was taken to abandon the old Moot Hall.
The Warden and Society next met in a room in the schoolmaster’s house in Mill Street, probably the one originally earmarked for the Library. At their 30th October meeting they ordered “That the School House in which this meeting is now assembled shall be named and called the Moot Hall until a new one is built.”
In April 1855 the former Upper School on Church Hill (the site now occupied by the Sons of Rest building) was the home of the “Permanent Library and Institute” At the time a mass meeting of the inhabitants had determined to petition for a new Charter for the town, and a Government Commissioner was due to arrive in August to hold a Public Inquiry. The Warden and Society had to find a venue for this, and decided on 28th July 1855 “That the Committee of the Reading Room be applied to for the use of their room to hold the Inquiry in, a room in the temporary Town Hall to be set aside for them.”
The Inquiry began on Thursday August 2nd 1855, and witnesses spoke of an incident, not mentioned in the Warden’s minutes, of a revolutionary nature. A meeting had been advertised for June 4th at 2.00p.m. at the Moot Hall where inhabitants who were against the petition (signed by Henry Fielding and others), would draft a counter-petition. Henry Fielding later claimed that he had gone to the meeting “to hear what they had to say” as his name was on the handbill.
At 2.00 p.m. a crowd of Fielding’s supporters gathered at the door of the Temporary Moot Hall, but the Sergeant at Mace would not let them in until a prior meeting of the Warden and Society was finished. Then the doors were thrown open and the crowd was admitted. The organisers of the meeting wanted Sir William Hartopp to take the Chair, but this proposal was shouted down and a near riot ensued. Henry Fielding restored order by nominating Thomas Hayward (a supporter of the petition). The transcript of the Inquiry reads; “Mr. Holbeche (the Town Clerk): Was there not a great clamour at the meeting? Witness (Mr. Henry Fielding): Yes, and you have to thank me that you and the other Corporation men were not pitched through the window.”
Sir William Hartopp muttered “you are a funny lot” and led his fellow members of the Corporation and their supporters out of the Moot Hall and into the Reading Room, and so ended the nearest thing to a riot in the history of Sutton. The Warden at the time was the 26-year-old Rector, W.K.Riland Bedford, who tried, without success, to find a compromise, and never again sought election as Warden.