The opening of the Sutton Coldfield Branch line of railway in 1862 marked a great change in the town’s history. Looking back, it seemed to later Victorians that it was the end of ‘old Sutton’, a rural market town idyll suddenly broken into by the harsh industrial age. The replacement of half a dozen horse-drawn omnibuses taking more than an hour over bumpy roads in 1860 by 16 trains a day in 1870 making the same journey to Birmingham in 25 minutes smoothly and comfortably was a revolution, but not everyone in Sutton welcomed it.

There was a petition against a scheme of 1853 which proposed a railway to Sutton, signed by over 400 inhabitants. One of the clauses in the petition declared that a railway “would be far from benefitting Sutton, and would bring an influx of the inferior population of manufacturing districts, with their shops and factories, and render Sutton a smoky and depraved suburb of Birmingham”. The wish for Sutton to retain its character of a peaceful country town is also expressed in Miss Bracken’s “History of the Forest and Chase of Sutton Coldfield”, published in 1860, where she concludes a passage on the idyllic nature of rural life with the words “at the present time there is not a steam engine in the parish”. However, by the 1850s the character of the town had already been changed by the influx of wealthy businessmen from the neighbouring towns who came to live in Sutton.

To other authors the railway symbolised the end of peace and quiet - H.H.Horton’s poem “Sutton Park” contains the line “Thy secret haunts no railway change have found”, and Sarah Holbeche wrote when the line opened “1862, the year of the Rail Train, to which may be added the Peace of the Valley is fled.” Bishop Amherst, who knew Sutton Park in the 1840s when he was at Oscott College, blamed the railway for ruining the tranquillity of Sutton Park, writing in 1880 “In these degenerate days the trains bring hundreds to wander beneath the trees or lounge on the banks of the pools, so that police surveillance has invaded the wilds, and one may expect to be called upon to exhibit one’s authority ticket”.

However, progressive Suttonians did not share these romantic views, and expected the railway to bring prosperity, breathing new life into their rural backwater. Businessmen in particular had been looking forward to the advent of the railway; as Mr. Baron Dickenson Webster, owner of the wire factory at Penns Mill put it “We have been expecting a railway, trying to get one, ever since 1846”, and “The cry has always been, When is our railway to come?”

Prospect of Sutton from the Cup Inn, the romantic rural character of the town before the railway is exaggerated in this print by Miss Bracken. The peaceful scene evokes the line from a popular ballad by Edward Fitzball, “The peace of the valley is fled” quoted by Miss Bracken’s neighbour Sarah Holbeche. (illustration courtesy of Sutton Reference Library)