The Sutton Coldfield Volunteer Rifle Corps was formed in 1880, and at full strength it comprised 140 officers and men. Sutton men wishing to join a join a volunteer force before 1880 could probably have gone to the Warwickshire Rifle Volunteers; if they did, they had to pay for their own kit, but the attraction was that they could then rub shoulders with the gentry.
The top gentry in Sutton were the Hartopps of Four Oaks Hall. They regarded themselves as a cut above the rest of the polite society of Victorian Sutton, as recalled by Richard Holbeche: “the Hartopps of Four Oaks Hall entered the church always when the psalms were being read, in single file, and passed with ridiculous dignity, verily there are snobs of every degree”
Sir John W C Hartopp, Baronet, was the Lieutenant-General of the Warwickshire Rifle Volunteer Regiment, and on July 1 1867 he invited the first administrative battalion to hold a field day in Four Oaks Park. The event was due to start at 2.30, but the trains bringing the men to Sutton were running late, and they did not get there until 4.00. The strength of the corps included 27 officers, 45 sergeants, 61 members of the band and 450 privates.
Four Oaks Park was described as “not surpassed in this neighbourhood for beauty of scenery, variation of hill and dale, and the massive foliage of the venerable forest trees which here abound”. After partaking of some refreshments, the battalion paraded on some “comparatively level ground” at the back of the hall for drill, followed by various exercises. According to the report in the newspaper, “The large herd of deer were somewhat shocked from their usual quietude by the repeated volleys of the riflemen, and leaving their usual haunt under the shade of the forest trees in front of the hall, they sought refuge in the more sequestered nooks of the grounds adjacent to Sutton Park”.
Some of the Sutton gentry would have liked to be invited to watch the spectacle, as Sarah Holbeche remarked - “Rifle Review at Four Oaks, Sir John giving permission (which but for a recent death in Lady Hartopp’s family might have been with better feeling an invitation to the neighbourhood to see the show); a fine day made it a success”. Miss Holbeche felt snubbed by not being invited, and did not attend, and was not pleased that her equally proud neighbour Miss Caroline Bracken, went and endured the heat “to please the men.”