Medieval documents relating to Sutton, such as the early thirteenth century charters, are often difficult to date. Walter de Bereford’s charter does bear a date, however - “ad purificacione beate marie anno regno regis Henrici filii regis Johannis xxx septimo”, that is, at the feast of the Purification (February 2nd, Candlemas) in the 37th year of the reign of Henry son of John (King Henry III), which is 1252.

Three undated charters of the Earls of Warwick must have been made during the period when they were earls; one is by Waleran, Earl from 1184-1204, and two are by Thomas, 1228-1242, giving us only approximate dates. Waleran’s difficulty in fighting off the claims of an imposter to be his elder brother returned from Jerusalem is an example of the many challenges to owners of property at all levels from false claimants, often armed with forged documents. One way of countering forgeries was to have a deed witnessed by a number of men of standing, as many as possible and of as high a status as could be, who would be able to swear that the document was genuine. King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 in the presence of a host of witnesses, but even this was insufficient - they were deemed to be the king’s men who would swear to anything, and it had to be re-issued in 1216 witnessed by a different set of more independent barons.

The witnesses to Walter de Bereford’s 1252 charter were mostly local people, including educated men such as Simon the Parson of Sutton and Robert the clerk but also Adam the Parker, Robert the huntsman, and John the Farrier of Sutton. There were nine witnesses to one of Thomas the sixth Earl of Warwick’s deeds , and they were of higher status, including Sir John Durvassal and Sir John de Lodwick. Sir John Durvassal is described as Earl Thomas’s steward, a position he is known to have held in 1242, and the County Commissioners for the tallage appointed by King Henry in 1235 were Durvassal and Lodwick, so the charter probably dates from about 1240.

The charter of Waleran, Earl of Warwick from 1184 - 1204, has thirteen named witnesses, including Roger of Ullenhall who was probably his steward. Hugh the Prior of Canwell Priory was another witness, but both Roger and Hugh were alive during the whole of Waleran’s earldom, so no help with dating the charter. Three of the witnesses, Henry the Priest of Sutton, William the deacon of Sutton, and John the clerk of Sutton are surprising because these three clergymen must have been attached to the parish church of Sutton. The charter must date from before 1204, but Holy Trinity Parish Church is generally thought to have been founded after 1250, and the spiritual needs of Suttonians prior to 1250 are generally supposed to have been satisfied by the Earl of Warwick’s Chaplain, based at the Chapel of St. Blaise in the Manor House on Manor Hill. These witnesses disprove this theory, providing evidence for the existence of a church in Sutton in 1200 served by three clergymen - perhaps it was a timber structure, replaced by the present stone church later in the century.

King John signing the Magna Carta in the presence of noble witnesses.