Since the beginning of this year I’ve been deeply involved in a research-heavy project, creating a large scale panorama of Sutton Coldfield around the year 1600 for the Shakespeare in Sutton Festival. Organised by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, the festival takes place throughout April, here's a little taster before the big reveal...
The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, to give it’s full title, has a proud historic heritage dating back to at least Saxon times. Archaeology in the area has also revealed Roman and Iron Age evidence. Well known for it’s ancient and expansive woodland Sutton Park of 2,400 acres, it also happens to be where I grew up! Much of the town history succumbed to urban development in the late 19th and 20th centuries, but still there are some hidden surviving nooks from the past which the festival will help to showcase.
Shakespeare in Sutton will host a range of events and talks, display a surviving copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first collected edition of his works, and screening debut of a short film drama Falstaff – a Naughty Knight in Sutton Coldfield, co-written by my old school mate Mark Williams. My humble contribution - the panorama map, will be reproduced as a large window panel in the Gracechurch Centre in the centre of town, on display from 10th April!
Sutton has connections to Shakespeare, the town is mentioned specifically in Henry IV pt 1, Act 4 Scene 2, when Falstaff, en-route to the Battle of Shrewsbury, declares…
“Bardolph, get thee before to Coventry. Fill me a bottle of sack. Our soldiers shall march through. We’ll to Sutton Coldfield tonight.”
Shakespeare may have been familiar with the town personally, as the nearby manor house Park Hall was the ancestral home of his mother Mary Arden, Shakespeare had cousins living in the area, so it’s very likely he visited. Also, it’s long been claimed that the wild wood Gum Slade in Sutton Park was the inspiration for the woodland setting of A Midsummer Nights Dream.
Coincidentally, I lived very close to Gum Slade as a teenager and spent much time wandering and sketching the woods, it’s a wonderful place. The ancient trees sparked my imagination at the same time I became sucked into Arthur Rackham’s wonderful fairytale illustrations for the play… I had no idea of the Dream connection then, perhaps the same tangled roots inspired me, as they did the bard!
There have been so many discoveries like this as I researched the map, this project has been an amazing, and very personal, revelation!
Though designed as a fun and accessible map of the area, creating the illustration was only the final stage after weeks of intense research into the heritage of the region. There was a lot of planning behind it, greatly helped by Zoe Toft, the head of FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, and Dr Mike Hodder, archaeologist and president of the Friends of Sutton Park Association, researching for the panorama completely consumed me over the beginning of the year, a crash course in the history of the town, while at the same time kindling warm memories of when I lived there. Much has been written about Sutton’s past, the Local History Research Group has posted some fascinating in-depth articles, so with every fact uncovered, the more we wanted to represent in the map, and the scope of the project increased.
The full size image will be revealed soon!