“Verily there are snobs of every degree” - so wrote Richard Holbeche in 1892. He was remembering the 1860s, when the Hartopp family of Four Oaks Hall always arrived late at church, and made a great display of going to their seats with “ridiculous dignity”. Four Oaks Hall had been purchased by Sir William Hartopp for £12,000 in 1792. It was the family of his descendant, Sir William Edmund Cradock Hartopp, Bart., whose airs disgusted Richard Holbeche.

The family was at home at the time of the 1861 census, and the Census Enumerator recorded them - the 66-year old Baronet and his wife Lady Jane, daughters Matilda, Louisa and Julia aged 25, 19 and 18, and 14-year old Edmund. But these were not the only ones to walk down the aisle with their noses in the air, because the Hartopps had visitors - the 18-year-old Marquis of Hastings, Lady North with her two boys the Earl of Guildford and the Honourable Martin, and Robert Wright, Lieutenant in the army.

The Hall also accommodated 25 servants. There was a housekeeper, 32 years old, born in Northumberland, and twelve maids, the youngest a housemaid of 16 and the oldest a laundry maid aged 39. Then there were the butler and the under-butler, cook, coachman, two valets, two footmen, a groom, a postillion, a stable boy and a poster. None of the servants were native to Sutton Coldfield, places of birth included Scotland, Montgomery, Wiltshire and Dorset.

Sir William had succeeded his brother Sir Edmund Cradock Hartopp, to whom the poet H. H. Horton dedicated his pastoral poem Sutton Park, published in 1850. According to the poet their father, old Sir William, was remembered with affection:

How goodness beamed around his aged face,
“His looks adorned the venerable place”
Nor did his features all his worth belie,
Though high his rank, his virtues stood as high.

No doubt the high-ranking Hartopps welcomed such flattery.

The Great Hall at Four Oaks Hall, showing the grandeur of the Hartopp home; taken by Sir Benjamin Stone in 1895 just before the whole building was demolished. Photo courtesy Sutton Coldfield Reference Library.