Sutton Coldfield: Warwickshire's Royal town

PUBLISHED: 15:45 20 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013

Sutton Coldfield: Warwickshire's Royal town

Sutton Coldfield: Warwickshire's Royal town

Sutton Coldfield has a long and venerable history. Although now part of the West Midlands the town is rooted in the Warwickshire landscape as Ros Dodd reports

If you were to drop me into any part of Sutton Park, Id be able to find my way out I know it like the back of my hand, says Louise Rawlings.

Louise, an artist based in Mere Green, has lived in Sutton Coldfield all her life. Every day, she walks her English setter, Alfie, for an hour in the 2,400 acres of open heath, marshes and wetland that make up the largest national nature reserve in Europe completely surrounded by town.

The park has been the inspiration for several of Louises contemporary mixed media paintings, some of which have been turned into greeting cards by Woodmansterne and Phoenix Trading.

Her favourite spot is Rowtons Well, an ancient spring that lies close to the Roman road, Icknield Street. Its a medicinal pool, about 10ft in diameter, encircled by a kerb of large stones.

Its not easy to find; you have to search through the heath land. But its a natural spring and its lovely.

Despite the encroachment of 21st century living, Sutton Park created as a deer park by King Henry I in the 12th century remains largely unspoilt, offering the towns residents and visitors a slice of wilderness on the edge of suburbia.

This, in large part, is thanks to the dedication of the Friends of Sutton Park Association (FoSPA), which was formed in December 1950 in response to the threat of building within the park and is still an active watchdog presence today. The group is currently battling a proposed building development just outside the park, close to Wyndley Pool. Along with Sutton residents, weve actually been fighting plans to build on this site since 2004! says FoSPAs honorary secretary, Antonia Watts.

The Friends also has a conservation team, which builds footbridges and fences, de-silts pools and clears heath land, and a Biodiversity Study Group, which traps, identifies and records moths, butterflies and other types of wildlife.

There are also archaeological walks organised throughout the year, including a dawn chorus walk, which can reveal up to 45 bird species.

Dr Peter Coxhead, secretary of Sutton Coldfield Natural History Society, says the park includes many unusual plants, including the weird and wonderful-looking round-leaved sundew one of three insect-eating plants to be found here and a type of fungi, the yellow swamp russula, which was first recorded for science from specimens collected at the park in the 1800s.

The park is one of the aspects of Sutton that makes it unique within the West Midlands conurbation. Formerly a part of Warwickshire and the only town in the region to have been granted a royal charter, it guards its identity jealously.

That is particularly apparent in Four Oaks, to the north of the town, which has hardly changed in the last half century.

Fringed with expensive and opulent homes, the small but thriving row of shops on Walsall Road reflects the Sutton of yesteryear.

Jack and Jill, a childrens designer wear shop, has been here since 1961. Owner Denise Dugmore, who has run it for the past 17 years, says: You still get personal service in Four Oaks; the same is true of Streetly, just down the road.

Ninety-five per cent of our customers are locals and regulars we get a lot of footballers wives. We also get a lot of second and third generation customers because the shop has been here so long.

Nearby is Wedding Belles of Four Oaks, a dreamily-elegant shop co-owned by Claire Jackson.

Weve been here six years, although its been a wedding boutique for 15 years, she says. Because were not on the high street, our customers come to us because they have sought us out. Its a very nice place to be Four Oaks does retain a village feel.

Not far away is another upmarket area of Sutton that retains its own identity Mere Green. But although it boasts a range of independent shops, such as Belwell Interiors, along with a Waitrose and large Sainsburys store, its image has suffered in the last few years due to a refurbishment plan that hit the buffers when the development company collapsed with crippling debts.

A row of shops fronting the traffic island, which have lain empty since 2007, remain boarded up. However, the good news is that the 50m redevelopment has been revived and could deliver new apartments, restaurants, shops and parking by 2014.

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