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Harrogate Story 

 

HARROGATE UNDER THE COMMISSIONERS (1841-1884) 

 

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The Stray 

They had another, and much more serious, rival - the long-established, unelected, and rather indeterminate Stray Proprietors. In 1778 the 200-acre Stray had been granted for public use, but rights of pasturage on it had been assigned at the same time to 27 private individuals - those, in the main, who had received the bigger shares in the distribution of the local common land. The right to pasture one cow, or a two-year-old horse, or four sheep, was known as a gate. The fifty gates granted at first were divided out unequally - from a half-gate to the Ingilbys' twelve. They could be sold, and they changed hands quite frequently. Wealthy newcomers, such as William Sheepshanks, made a point .of acquiring them, and by 1836, for example, only 8 of the 27 original families had any gate at all. 

By that time, many of the gates were not made use of by their owners, but were let to others. The Stray - so called probably because it was not an enclosure and was never enclosed by a fence - had to have an attendant herdsman. He had the care of the animals legitimately placed there; he had the right to impound any stock that was "gate"-crashing; and he had the duty to exclude absolutely any donkeys, goats, mules, pigs or geese. An 1868 tombstone at Christ Church records that William Hill had been "herdsman of Harrogate Stray for nearly 40 years." 

The Stray-gate-proprietors (a title unfortunately shortened at once to Stray Proprietors) had had imposed on them from the first the obligation of improving the Stray. They were expected, for example, to level it and to plant trees on it "for shelter and ornament." To encourage them to do their duty, they had been given - in addition, of course, to the pasturage-rights on the Two Hundred Acres - the possession of fifteen acres, made up of odd strips of land on the border of roads in. various parts of the township. In 1845 and 1846, they were quite properly awarded compensation for roads being widened near the Swan and the Crown hotels. This incident, however, tended to confirm the erroneous idea that they were also the owners of the original Stray. As to fulfilling their duty, the early Proprietors seem to have done nothing, unless it may be counted to their credit that they allowed a Race Course to be made on the South Park about 1790. The Stray was still marshy in places, furze-covered in others. The inactivity of the Proprietors was one reason for the passing of the 1841 Act. 

But in the Commissioners' period, they seem to have done little more. They drew up a short code of regulations, including one forbidding the driving of "any Stage-Coach, Wagon or Cart on or across the Stray or any of the drives, footpaths or walks thereon," and the placing of "any Booth or other erection thereon" without their authorisation. Of the eight Stray Owners who signed these orders, seven were Commissioners. This fact may explain how it came about that the little that was done was paid for by the Commissioners, who had a public fund at their disposal. In 1843, these fenced in ponds on the Stray, one near the Granby, and one in the South Park opposite Christ Church. In. the same year, a troop of cavalry held manoeuvres on the "Stray east of Mr Paley's road," and the officer-in-command suggested that "many holes could be filled up "; and this the Commissioners did. They, too, shared, with the township the cost of repairs to the road from the Brunswick (Prince of Wales) to the Tewit Well. (This road is now a walk, but because of its ancient status, it may be used by cyclists). The Stray Proprietors remained faithful to the tradition set up before 1841, and in 1884 the still uncared-for state of the Stray was an argument for the incorporation of the Borough. 

 

 

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