If you stand on the Vesey Memorial looking across Vesey Gardens to High Street, you see a wide triangle of space enclosed by Mill Street and Coleshill Street. If you were standing here 800 years ago, you would be looking at the Earl of Warwick’s newly-laid-out town of Sutton with its large triangular market-place in front of you.

Over time buildings encroached on the market area, until by 1700 the whole area of what is now Vesey Gardens was built up. Along the left-hand side of Church Hill there were four large houses, handsome enough to figure on a painted fire-screen of the early nineteenth century now at Maxstoke Castle. By that time some of the houses had been converted into pairs, and by the end of Victoria’s reign all four houses had been converted.

The 1851 census shows that there were then six houses in Church Hill, four of them occupied by tradesmen or clerks, but two of them catering for the growing population by taking lodgers - Maria Thursfield and Sarah Hurnshaw, both widows, had seven lodgers between them. By 1881 the six houses had become eight, and the number of people living there had increased from 23 to 43. There were several large families, and the occupations given in the 1881 census show that most of the families were working class.

In the nineteenth century the households shared a wash-house at the back, and the outbuildings included a row of privies. A sale document for the house on the corenr of Mill Street shows that the owner had the use of the washhouse on Tuesdays, and that his was the largest of the privies; the town pump was opposite this house.

Such Victorian facilities were not acceptable in the twentieth century, and by the 1930s Church Hill was an eyesore. Replacing the houses with a public garden “would give a clear and complimentary view of the Parish Church now almost hidden by a mass of rather mean and unrelated buildings”, wrote Alderman John Willmott. The buildings were duly demolished and Vesey Gardens opened on Monday 5th June 1939. (Article based on research by the late Kate Kendall).

Church Hill in 1895 - the milkman is selling milk from the churn on his handcart. (Photo courtesy of Sutton Reference Library)