The Aston Hall estate of Sir Thomas Holte included, early in the eighteenth century, a farm, Stonehouse Farm, most of which is now within Sutton Park. In 1730 a dam was built there, creating a reservoir (Powell’s Pool) with a water mill nearby. William Powell leased the mill in 1750 and fitted a tilt hammer powered by a waterwheel. Although the mill leased by William Powell is said to have been a rolling mill, producing iron plate and bars, this seems unlikely, as the first rolling mill had only just been invented, so the metal-working was more likely done in a forge using the tilt hammer, and for many years the pool was known as New Forge Pool.

A descendant of William Powell, also called William, held the mill in 1824, when it was a thriving small factory producing spades, forks and other agricultural hand tools; the pool was still called New Forge Pool, but was also known as Spade Mill Pool. Francis Parkes took over the mill in 1843, a 34-year-old Stourbridge man, describing himself in the 1851 census as “spade-maker and plater.”

Parkes was active in the agitation for a new corporation to replace the outdated Warden and Society of Sutton. As a result of this agitation, an “Inquiry into the state of the Local Government of Sutton Coldfield” was held at Sutton in 1855. Here it was stated that Parkes had lived in the Parish for thirteen years, residing at stone house forge employing thirty men in the manufacture of spades, forks, etc., and the pool is referred to as Powells Pool. Most of the employees were local men - the late Ken Williams searched the 1851 census for Sutton Coldfield and found twenty-three spade-makers.

A Directory for 1855 shows that Parkes was in partnership with Allibone, and the firm was soon expanding, going into partnership with Palmer and Hodgkinson, edge-tool makers of the “Sutton Works” in Aston. Francis Parkes is described in the 1861 census as “edge tool and nail maker employing 65 men 69 boys and 4 women”. This included those working at the Aston factory - when the firm went bankrupt in 1867 it was “in the matter of James Palmer and George Hodgkinson carrying on business at the Sutton Works, Aston, near Birmingham, and the Stonehouse Forge, Sutton Coldfield…under the style of Francis Parkes and Co., Edge Tool Manufacturers”.

Sarah Holbeche, a Sutton lady living in High Street who noted local events in her diary, looked down on factory owners; she inserted a newspaper cutting in her diary about the bankruptcy with the comment “Parkes of notoriety and self-satisfied eloquence as to politics and theology; misguided in both I think”. Her brother, Vincent Holbeche, on hearing Parkes described as a gentleman at the 1855 Inquiry, crushingly retorted “he is a maker of forks”.

Francis Parkes and, later, his son Arthur continued to hold the lease of Stonehouse Forge for the rest of the nineteenth century, but they moved away from Sutton. The 1871 census shows James Palmer at Stonehouse Mill as an edge tool maker, but by 1881 the forge had been converted into a steel-rolling mill where Herbert Done employed five men and five boys. In the 1880s Sutton Park became a popular destination for trippers from Erdington and Boldmere, and Done took the opportunity of developing Powells Pool (which was still outside the Park) as a tourist attraction, with refreshment rooms and boats for hire. An advertisement in a Sutton Coldfield Guide of 1890 refers to the pool and mill belonging to the Powells Pool Company Limited.

Powells Pool c.1890, with the pleasure steamboat “Foam” at the landing stage and the smoking factory chimney of Stonehouse Mill in the background. (Photo courtesy of Sutton Reference Library).