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Chapter 3

An Early Stray Defender


It is tempting to think that one reason why the draft rules were never pressed to the conclusion of ratification was that the general run of inhabitants did not take kindly to the idea of contributing to improvements which would be of manifest advantage to the gateholders.

Perhaps, too, the large promises of "divers gentlemen and other resorting to Harrogate who had declared themselves ready to contribute" looked a little less promising in those off-season months when the locals had time for their own affairs.

The gateholders, who at any time could have got together intent on securing improvements, if necessary at their own expense, were much too diverse a body for any such thing. Their average number was about 25 and as Mr. Powell had said, they never could all agree on any one thing.

Consequently, all the high hopes engendered by the 1789 Act came to nothing. The Stray remained in its evil condition; only the herdsman or pinder stood between the gateholders and trespassers; and the precious springs went wholly unprotected. The three Enclosure Commissioners who had drafted but not ratified the rules in obedience to the 1789 Act, William Hill, of Tadcaster, Richard Richardson, of Darlington, and John Bainbridge, of Crimple House, Pannal, eventually died as did all other commissioners surviving from the 1778 Award. The first proposed committee of five was unable to act and no solution to the mounting problems was in sight.

Some time before his death, John Bainbridge. then a gateholder, had occasion to inquire into his legal rights. This was in 1803, eleven years after he and two others had drafted their never-to-be ratified rules. Offences were being committed, in some cases by gateholders, such as "encroaching and building on the Stray, digging up the soil, setting posts and rails, and laying earth, manure, and rubbish on the 200 acres". Mr. Bainbridge wanted to deter and punish such practices in the absence of rules under the 1789 Act. Thomas Barrow, an attorney then at York Assizes, told him he had two remedies: he could prosecute for a public nuisance at the suit of the King as indeed could any member of the public since for every intent and purpose the Stray had become dedicated to the public at large; or he could, as a copyholder with right of common, compensate himself in damages for the injury occasioned his cattlegates.

Whether Bainbridge acted on this advice one does not know but it is significant that three years later, in 1806, four gateholders combined to appoint Francis Fairbank, of Knaresborough, as their attorney in actions relative to trespasses, nuisances, and encroachments on the Stray. These were injuries affecting gateholders and it is worth noting that in addition to the old complaints of piratical grazing and such nuisances as dumping rubbish and building materials on the Stray there was now a complaint about encroachments.

Again, there is no evidence of action having been taken at the instance of the four gateholders but there can be no doubt that, with nothing more than an action in trespass to rely upon combined with the customary inability of the gateholders to unite, matters cannot have improved.

Fifteen years later, late in 1821, it was not only the gateholders but also the inhabitants who were disposed towards reform, the latter of course, in the interests of protecting the springs. First the gateholders, or more probably some of them, instructed Powells to brief the Harrogate attorney, William Walton, to study the law and prepare a petition to the Duchy of Lancaster asking for rules and orders to be made. Walton's answer was, predictably, that application to the Duchy Court would be a waste of time since that court had no power to act, no rules having been made on which it could work from the 1789 Act. He advised an approach to Parliament for a new statute.

This suggestion was taken up by the townspeople and public meetings in February and March 1822, were held in the Promenade Room (now, enlarged in 1875, the Old Town Hall, Swan Road). Here came the first instance of townspeople themselves looking for a solution to the aspect of the general problem which most concerned them - the state of the springs. To illustrate the seriousness of the problem one quotes from the petition for an Act which went to the Duchy from the second public meeting following the formation of a committee.

Some objectionable practices had arisen in recent years, the petition said, calculated to pollute the springs. At night time, people who could not be identified were in the habit of putting dung, ashes, dead dogs, and other animals "of a most offensive nature" into the springs by means of which the waters had been, and continued to be, polluted.

At the first of these two public meetings it had been suggested that to meet the expense of promoting an Act, a sum not exceeding one shilling per week should be raised on persons taking the waters until the cost of the Act would be discharged. This, of course, was directly contrary to the spirit of the 1789 Act which insisted on voluntary subscriptions and presumably the second public meeting and the committee which had been formed of 26 persons were reminded of this, for the financial solution put forward in the petition for a new Act was that a charge should be made for admission to the buildings which it was proposed should be erected over the wells to protect them. The rights of the public to partake of the waters free of charge were safeguarded by the provision that there should be a free supply obtainable at an outside tap.

The petition and the scheme it proposed sank without trace. One suspects that the Duchy Court discouraged the enterprise. Just as proposed solutions which would favour the gateholders and save their pockets foundered so did the 1822 proposals which were entirely compiled in the interests of the public and its concern for the purity of the health-giving wells.

There was, moreover, the possible consideration that neither the promoters of the Act nor the contractors who would erect the buildings over the wells would be entirely satisfied that the scheme was financially sound. How long would they have to wait for their money? Or, if some capital borrowing could be undertaken, an arrangement for which the Act could surely have catered, would the forthcoming revenue prove adequate for its purpose? At that stage there was simply no knowing. Though the "company" which, visiting Harrogate for the waters, came by coach, stage or private, was usually described as "numerous" and, being aristocratic, was certainly well-heeled, would it be numerous enough to provide the necessary income? On that point they might have obtained a discouraging opinion from old Betty Lupton, The Queen of the Wells, who dispensed the waters at the Low Harrogate Sulphur Well and who depended for her livelihood on the tips she got for her services, not, of course, for the water which at all times was free at that public well.

Though they were thwarted in this particular effort and indeed were to be thwarted again, the inhabitants had not from early in the 19th century been without initiative. Perhaps taking a hint from the principle laid down in the dormant 1789 Act, and having no local government organisation with the authority to deal with such matters, they had adopted the practice of holding meetings to resolve on public improvements for which they organised public subscriptions.

The most notable instance of this was the provision of the temple dome or cupola on pillars erected over the old stone-covered sulphur well in the lowest part of Low 1-larrogate. That was in the year 1807-08. This covering was not an enclosure. It was little more than a protection against the weather and it afforded no protection at all against the kind of vandalism so graphically described by the petitioners of 1822. When Shutt's Royal Pump Room came to be built in 1841-42 (high over the old sulphur well) the dome and pillars were removed to the Tewit Well where a little later walling was provided between the pillars so that the whole was enclosed. More recently, the rotted dome has been replaced, the walling removed, and the "temple" has been restored to its original appearance.

Though the inhabitants were showing evidence of initiative in their public subscriptions for improvements (which included the provision of seats and the gravelling of worn paths) the gateholders remained in their traditionally divided state.

They were nearly brought to a sticking point in 1834. It needs to be remembered that their circumstances had not changed since 1778 though their personnel had changed often. The Stray remained in the unimproved state which existed when the first gateholders took over their confused and disunited management of it.

At long last, the firm of Powells, it seems, persuaded the gateholders to convene a meeting in the search for progress. It was by this time accepted hat an Act of Parliament would be necessary and that somehow or other the problem of finance would have to be surmounted. To achieve this there was introduced for the first time an ingenious idea.

The proposal was that a further 25 imaginary gates should be created making 75 in all. Each gate would be sold for £80 and each present gateholder would have the opportunity of purchasing in proportion to his holding. Where the offer was refused or not fully taken up, the rejected gates would be sold at auction to the other holders (but not to the general public). What this suggestion amounted to in fact was that the gateholders would pay at the rate of £80 a gate in order to graze half as many cattle again as were already being grazed. This presupposed that the 200 acres would support the extra grazing when the condition of the Stray had been improved by draining and levelling. Furthermore it would not affect the 1778 Award's stint.

Presumably it was estimated that the £2,000 which would be gathered from this sale of extra gates would suffice to pay for the Act, for the improvements to the Stray, and, remarkably, for the protection of the wells, since the petition to the Duchy of Lancaster seeking support made mention of the gateholders' willingness to shoulder even that responsibility. How they hoped to do all these things for £2,000 was never explained and how the springs would be protected was never detailed. It looks as though the thing had not be thought through.

Yet another stumbling block asserted itself to occasion Samuel Powell Junior's bitter comment that the gateholders could never be got to agree together on any one plan.

At the meeting convened for the gateholders the owners of 34 out of the 50 gates attended. The resolution to prepare a petition was taken by a majority of people present but in the event it was signed by only 15 of the 27 existing owners of gates, and those 15 represented only 22 gates. The plain fact was that a few individual owners possessed several gates - six gates were in the hands of the Brown family, four were held by Mrs. Bailey, the daughter of James Franklin. formerly of Prospect Cottage (near to the present Post Office) and a considerable landowner from whom Franklin Road gets its name, and five gates were owned by John Greeves, former owner of the Granby Hotel.

The nagging question, wholly characteristic of a body that could never reach unanimous decisions, was whether voting should be by show of hands or whether it should be plural voting, i.e. according to the number of gates an owner held. Much political controversy in the 19th century was devoted to the question of single or plural voting and as late as 1970 it had not ceased to be a sore point in Northern Ireland.

To their credit, though expediency may have had something to do with it, the firm of Powells held strongly to the theory that voting should be by show of hands. Evidently they knew it was the only hope of ever getting any progress on the Stray question. The owners of multiple gates objected vociferously to the idea that a man with six gates should have no more say than the owners of a mere half gate of whom there were then four.

The Powells slid over this difficulty as best they could. In submitting a petition signed by 15 out of the 27 owners, but representing only 22 of the 50 gates they added the information that four or five more would have signed except that they had an objection to binding themselves by signing. "We are not aware" wrote Powells to T. Dawes Danvers, the Duchy Court's official, "that any objections will be made except from one or two of the largest owners, and probably after a little time even these may consent".

Mr. Dawes Danvers took a contrary view. He returned the memorial with some significant notes in the margins. He counted not heads but gates and the gates represented by signatures were in the minority.

It is likely that the wealthier gateholders had been making their representation to the Duchy official. At that time, the Greeves family was one of standing and influence in Harrogate. John Greeves had but recently sold his Granby Hotel to none other than Macready, the Shakespearean actor, who had no sooner completed the deal than he had regretted it. It is amusing if a little fanciful to think of Macready playing Othello in Paris and worrying about his Granby Hotel venture in Harrogate while in the act of throttling his Desdemona, who was Harriet Smithson, with the young Hector Berlioz in the audience.

In fact, during the greater part of 1834, John Greeves was a dying man. His eldest son, Charles, the land surveyor whose map of Harrogate in the 1820s is kept in the Harrogate Library, had a year or so earlier sailed with his wife and two young daughters to America in search of fame and fortune. He found neither. Judging by his character as revealed in his day· journal of 1841 to 1847, also in the Harrogate Library, his failure is hardly surprising. He was a well educated man of irresolute purpose much given to living just a little beyond his means and not quite strong enough a personality to cope with the roughness of the commercial world of awakening Harrogate.

It was while he was in America and on the point of returning home that at last a letter from his brother Augustus Greeves, caught up with him, telling him of his father's death and of his share in the inheritance. The letter contains one phrase which helps much to explain the fate of the 1834 effort by Powells and the 15 gateholders to obtain an Act of Parliament. Father, he wrote, had "put down" an attempt to enclose the ells and improve the Stray.

John Greeves' sons inherited their father's five Stray gates and maintained, along with other multiple holders of gates, notably the Brown family, their opposition to any scheme for controlling the Stray which came along.

It is worth recording that on one point Mr. Dawes Danvers was wrong. He tended to speak with more authority than accuracy.

He and the Duchy Court. he wrote, would be disposed to entertain any measure for which the protection and enjoyment of the waters by the public might have the sanction of the owners of the greater number of Stray gates, but the principles on which the prevailing restrictions (including the exact definition of the stint for pasturing cattle) were founded could not be violated.

He was wrong, of course. An Act of Parliament could violate anything and that was what the inhabitants and the gate owners were asking for.


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