Where did it all begin? A history of Rectory Park
John Shilton, a puritan, whose family had owned the advowson (the right in English law of presenting a nominee to an income from the land) of Sutton for many generations, appointed his son in law John Riland MA, son of John Riland Rector of Birmingham as Rector of Holy Trinity in 1689.
When Shilton found himself in financial difficulties Riland helped his patron and himself by buying the parish with a substantial endowment of land and therefore a guaranteed and substantial income for himself and the many members of his family who followed as Rector over the next three hundred years.
In 1701 Riland vacated the old 1528 rectory in Coleshill Street and commissioned William Wilson, a local architect to build a handsome Queen Anne style mansion in several acres of parkland (later to be known as Rectory Park).
When he died in 1720 his son Richard Riland MA succeeded as Rector, marrying Mary Bisse. His son and successor as Rector Richard Bisse Riland MA was Warden of the town in 1771 and in 1778 as a prominent landowner supported the proposal for the enclosure of the common land including the Park, which due to much local opposition did not proceed at that time.
When he died aged 58 in 1758 he was succeeded by his brother Rev John Riland (who been Warden of the town in 1762) who was of a different political persuasion and strongly opposed to Enclosure which did not proceed until after his death in 1822.
He was a champion of education for the common people and was heavily involved in the decision to invest the proceeds of a legal action against wrong-doings of the Warden and Society in the provision of schools.
In 1784 Lydia Riland, daughter of Richard Riland, married William Bedford a Birmingham lawyer. Their son, (grandson of Richard Riland, Rev William Riland Bedford MA) became Rector in 1822 in which year he was also Warden of Sutton Coldfield. Although he lived in some style, (in 1841 there were six servants living at the Rectory) he died aged only 49.
His eldest son being only seventeen at the time, another grandson of Richard Riland took over at the Rectory. This was Rev William Williamson son of Phoebe Riland another daughter of Richard Riland.
When he died in 1850 the twenty four year old Rev William K Riland Bedford MA was appointed rector, who at Oxford had discovered Cricket and in 1847 set up the Sutton Coldfield Cricket Club although cricket was played on the ground in 1836.
He also set up a touring side, which became quite famous in cricketing circles, the Free Foresters, who as a token of their esteem presented the Rector in 1863 with a silver salver which is retained by the MCC at Lord’s for general viewing.
The name of the Free Foresters was derived from the fact that archery was a popular past time at Rectory Park long before cricket was introduced. Throughout their reign the Riland Rectors had been sufficiently wealthy to employ curates and assistant curates to deal with the more humdrum tasks in the parish and several of these clerics even served as Wardens of the town. William certainly found the time to become a serious historian and antiquarian.
Two of his works, ‘Three Hundred Years of Family Living’ 1889 and ‘A History of Sutton Coldfield’ 1891 are essential reading for anyone with an interest in the town. But the days of the Riland Bedfords were numbered; the last of the dynasty Rev William C Riland Bedford served from 1892 to 1907.
The Sutton Coldfield Hockey Club moved from Sutton Park to play hockey on the cricket ground in Rectory Park in 1894 continuing until a few years ago when, the English Hockey Association required the sport to be played on Astro surfaces.
In 1898 the law was changed and thereafter advisors reverted to Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who in 1907 by an Act of Parliament in 1907 transferred the ownership of the rectory and Rectory Park to the Sutton Coldfield Corporation who were later absorbed by Birmingham City Council in 1974.
The Rectory was demolished in 1936 and a new one was built in Coleshill Street. However, sometime around 1900 the Minworth Road was redirected with Rectory Cottage appearing on the other side of the road, with the road’s name becoming Rectory Road and the boundary of the Park on the Western side finally established as it is today.
The Sutton Coldfield Cricket Club still play on the same areas some 160 years later and the deep ditch and older residents of the Town may well remember the Thatched Pavilion which was built in 1890 by a Mr Turville and was accidentally set alight in 1970 and burnt down 24 hours before it was scheduled to be demolished, with the groundsman inside, but he escaped unhurt.
Rugby football was played in the Park for a number of years, until around 1970 when Sutton Rugby Club moved to its current home in Walmley, whereupon Sutton United FC took over the playing areas vacated by the Rugby Club.
Football is also played in the southern area of the Park on six pitches which is run by the Sutton District League. The Park has somewhat been neglected over the last 30 years, the lime tree avenue has all gone, with no real replanting, although the ancient hedgerow that runs across the top of the park still remains and the woodland areas still flourish with bluebells in the spring and is being upgraded to a Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).