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Note 2

The First Decade


Whether or not the townspeople realised it at the time, they were to discover that the 1841 Act in giving the Straygate holders a statutory constitution also gave them some unassailable rights one of which, much to the public's later discontent, was the right to keep their accounts secret. As was inevitable, this secrecy, together with a blunt refusal to make any of the Stray Committee's affairs and dealings public, did nothing at all to quell rumours or dispel legends which came to attach in the public's mind to the committee's management of the Stray.

Certainly to some extent, there was justification for these suspicions. Thanks to the Powell File it is possible to follow the Stray Committee's activities for a number of years from its formation. The printed accounts cover the period 1841 to 1850 with the exception of 1845-46.It will be remembered that the Act empowered the Stray Committee to make a levy of up to £5 per gate on each gateholder each year for up to five years. This replaced the earlier concept of raising funds by selling off 25 imaginary gates at £80 each, the then going value. One likely objection to such a scheme would be the realisation that the acquisition of an extra gate would entitle the holder to pasture according to the stint and the plain fact was that in 1841 the Stray was in no condition to yield the extra herbage which could not be created overnight.

The longer term scheme of annual improvement was a much more practicable alternative and this, combined with the power, as and when the gateholders at their annual meeting thought fit, to sanction the letting of extra gates, proved to be the statutory outcome.

Given, in effect, the authority to put their part of the Act into operation much as they saw fit, the gateholders seem to have had no difficulty in hitting on a way of achieving the desired improvements painlessly. In the matter of levy on each gate they were limited to £5 per gate per annum. Manifestly in the first year, this would produce only £250 and the need was for a more ambitious programme than that sum implied.

The solution was simple. The Stray Committee, as a statutory body, could enter into contracts at the behest of the majority of gateholders. It could borrow, presumably on the security of the Straygates themselves. Thus for the improvement programme of 1841-42 a levy of £250 was raised from the gateholders and in addition £500 was borrowed from the bankers, Terry and Harrison. of Knaresborough. Mr Terry nowhere figures in the history of Harrogate but Harrison was John James Harrison, of Devonshire House, Harrogate, son of John H. Harrison, of Bellwood, Ripon. He purchased Devonshire House from Samuel Carrington shortly before his marriage in 1845. Carrington, though not successful in the first election of Improvement Commissioners was co-opted a member in September, 1841, to replace Charles Charlesworth, one of four Commissioners who resigned in high dudgeon following the engagement of Isaac Thomas Shutt as architect for the Royal Pump Room, the four declaring that the decision in favour of Shutt's plan "had been come to not upon the principle of its merit but by favour". The other resigning Commissioners were John Dearlove (of the Queen Hotel), the Rev. Thomas Kennion (of Christ Church), and John Green Paley (of Oatlands, the site now occupied by St. Aidan's School). Carrington was no sooner appointed to the Commissioners than he was regularly elected chairman of their meetings. This mark of high esteem lasted a few years. Many decades later, an old resident, Joseph England, recalled that Carrington, a retired East India merchant, fell foul of public opinion. It seems that at the outset he had criticised the power the Act of 1841 was to give to the Stray Committee to dispose of small slips of the Stray to frontagers (for the purpose of providing paths or small garden enclosures, a subject to be discussed later) yet in the event he proved to be the very first frontager (Devonshire House was in what is now Devonshire Place, then named Silver Street) to make such a purchase. The money, like all such monies, was to be devoted, by law, to the improvement of the Stray. Charles Greeves recorded in his day journal on April 22nd, 1842, that he surveyed Carrington's "encroachment" which had been "sold to him by the Stray Committee". It measured 98 square yards for which Mr. Carrington paid 5s. a square yard, or £24 l0s.

No word of this matter appeared in the newspapers at the time but it seems that Mr. Carrington, who was only one of a number of people who paid for such encroachments, felt the full force of public displeasure and suspicion, this heightened no doubt because the precise details of the transaction were not known. He felt this displeasure so much that he resigned his seat as an Improvement Commissioner, sold his house, and left the town. Evidence of his haste to dispose of his property is to be found in Greeves' day journal which records on May 16th, 1845, that "Harrison, the banker, has given £1,850 only for Carrington's house etc. It is worth £2,300 or £2,500."

Mr. Harrison was to suffer no such decline in public esteem. He was to become a strong influence in Harrogate, a much valued Improvement Commissioner and the founder of the Rifle Corps. His immediate usefulness to the Stray Committee was, in 1841, to lend £500.

Thus, the committee had £750 at its disposal for improvements to the Stray. In addition, the committee immediately assumed its right to make use of the "lanes" or road verges which it was understood from the 1789 Act were to compensate the gateholders for the 15 acres of the Stray which they would devote to tree planting etc. Hitherto, the Highways Surveyors had let the verges. That ceased, even though the verges had not yet been measured, a job which was to be given to Charles Greeves. The income from the "lanes" in the first year was £18 4s. and in addition there was sundry income including a fine of 5s. for trespass totalling £1 l0s. 3d., making a grand total of income available to the Stray Committee of £769 14s. 3d.

It is indicative of the confidence they felt in the future that in this first financial year, 1841-42, they spent £812 17s., leaving themselves with an overspending of £43 2s.9d. Much the greater part of the spending, about £750, went on draining tiles and labour. Other expenses included surveying and measuring, law costs for obtaining by-laws, and general administration.

The Stray Committee's accounts were kept on the basis of receipts and payments and subsequent annual accounts make no mention of the repayment of Terry and Harrison's loan of £500 nor, come to that, do they record the receipt of any further levies of £5 a year per gate. But it is obvious from the record of interest paid to the bank, a payment which ceased after May, 1844, that in fact the £500 was recovered from the gateholders in the years 1842-43 and 1843-44 and repaid to the bank without any mention of this in the accounts.

For, within a year, the gateholders had found a way of obtaining income to the committee's account which obviated any further levies than those of the first three years. The accounts for 1842-43 record four main sources of income to the committee. Cash received in respect of "slips of land sold off the Stray" totalled no less than £171 10s.6d., which at the rate recorded in Greeves' journal of 5s. a square yard represented the disposal of some 686 square yards. Evidently, the draining in the first year justified the letting of some extra gates and for 1842-43 this income amounted to £15 12s. Income from the letting of the "lanes" was £14 14s. and, a new source of income, rents for stands for cabs and donkey carriages amounted to £14 14s. Sundry income - rent for a stand for a "museum", l0s. 6d. and for a fine, 5s., brought the year's income to £2 17 7s. This income not only cleared the overspending of the previous year (£43 2s.9d.) but allowed also for further spending on improvements of nearly £100. At the end of the year the Committee had a small balance in hand of£5 15s. 6d.

The item of £171 l0s. 6d. received for slips of land sold off the Stray calls for some explanation. Among the many resentments which came to be nursed by townspeople concerning the management of the Stray by the statutory committee, this matter of selling slips of the Stray (which had been authorised by the 1841 Act) ranked as the most irritating. The gateholders had themselves largely to blame for the distrust and suspicion this policy created, for their omission, as of right, to publish their accounts for general consumption left people in ignorance of the facts and this void was inevitably filled by legend that did nothing to improve relations between gateholders and public.

Thanks to Charles Greeves's day journal we can get at the facts which were withheld from the public. Greeves and his brothers had inherited their father's five gates between them but at the crucial period in November, 1840, when pressure towards acquiring the Improvement Act became irresistible, it is clear that four of the five gates were sold, one only remaining is the name of Charles's brother, Alfred Greeves, who lived in London. It is also clear that Charles, who was active in various aspects of Harrogate's affairs in the 1840s, was his brother's representative as gateholder. He had a finger in several pies including assessments of properties for tax purposes, numerous commissions for plans and valuations as a land surveyor, membership of the workhouse committee, and, a sort of crowning glory, membership of the Improvement Commissioners first by way of appointment following the resignation of Nicholas Carter Snr. (i.e the first Nicholas Carter, pioneer and builder of the Prospect hotel and adjacent buildings) who is not to be confused with his son, also Nicholas, who was to become Mayor of Harrogate in 1884.

Greeves's day journal opens in January, 1842. In the first days of that month he was deeply involved along with other Improvement Commissioners in checking on the potential damage to the sulphur well in low Harrogate owing to the cutting of a drain for houses which Thomas Humble Walker, himself an Improvement Commissioner, was building in Promenade Terrace (now, Swan Road). Towards the end of the month, Greeves records that he had spent a day "reducing" his survey of 1-larrogate for his own use (the original survey is now in the Harrogate Library) and, he adds, "also one of the same size for the extra 15 acres of Stray". Obviously, this latter activity was a commission from the Stray Committee which naturally wanted precise details as against its hitherto vague awareness of the extent of the Stray and of the roadside verges which had come under its control.

Aware of Greeves's capabilities as a surveyor, the Stray Committee commissioned him, in April, 1842. to survey and value per square yard all the encroachments which the committee had noted when its members had "ridden the boundaries". This puts the situation in perspective. The survey was to be of encroachments which had already taken place. In the period up to 1841 during which all attempts by the gateholders to achieve united action petered out there had apparently been a number of surreptitious encroachments by frontagers into the Stray. The purpose of the survey was to obtain an accurate record of these and, though the 1841 Act can be read as meaning that in the future the gateholders could dispose of slips of Stray for the purpose of providing convenient paths to properties or "to enclose any small slips of land adjoining such property and premises" it is clear that the Stray Committee regarded this Clause number 209, of the 1841 Act, as authorising them to catch up with what had gone before and to extract payment for the appropriations. This throws a different light on the Carrington affair. Greeves mentions Carrington in his journal entry when recording the commission to make the survey and, though he does not say so, it could well be that Carrington, who was unquestionably a gateholder in 1844 since he was chairman of the annual meeting that year of the gateholders, had but very recently encroached on the Stray frontage of Devonshire House, and that this action had prompted the Stray Committee to put their house in order. It is also likely that Carrington's encroachment was the one known and talked about a little later and that it came to be regarded as an act much at variance with his moral responsibilities as a gateholder.

Be that as it may, Greeves set about his commission and it is significant that his first job was to survey Carrington's encroachment and to find that it amounted to 98 square yards. Greeves added the words "sold to him by the Committee of the Stray". That was in April 22nd, 1842. On the 26th and 28th Greeves was busy measuring other encroachments and by May 5th he was ready to report on the quantities and values of the known encroachments. Thereafter during 1842, Greeves was both recording new or proposed encroachments and double checking on his previous survey since frontagers apparently had a right to object to his assessments. On June 3rd, 1842 for example, he was "very painstakingly re-looking over and casting some (pieces of land) likely to be objected to, and comparing with my old plan". The potential objectors were the Rev. Thomas Kennion, the Rev. Henry Mitton, and Mr. Charles Charlesworth.

Greeves was further commissioned to measure the Stray and the slips on the sides of the roads which lay within the Improvement Commissioners' area, a work he did not complete until early January, 1843 when he recorded that the Stray contained 201 acres and 3.91 roods, and that the slip roads contained 19 acres 2.22 roods. making a total of 221 acres, 2.13 roods.

If the Stray Committee had been a little more forthcoming about the nature of these "sales' of slips of the Stray to various frontagers much public disquiet over the rest of the century and indeed into the third decade of the 20th century could have been avoided. It was a condition of any encroachment whether for a garden or an approach path that it should never be built on. Greeves himself had a cellar excavated at his home, Granby Cottage, which was to cause him endless trouble since the work was sloppily done. The cellar flooded, notably during the rainy Spring and Summer of 1845. The cellar door intruded into the Stray and for this he contracted to pay a mere 2s. 6d. rent a year on the condition that the agreement could be terminated at any time on three months' notice.

There can be no doubt that wherever the encroachments were for front gardens most of these ultimately were returned to the Stray proper. It is enough simply to look at the Stray in High Harrogate to see that there are few such encroachments now. Indeed, as time went on, the roads and paths built on or across the Stray whether for private convenience or public use, have all come to be regarded as public paths and roads. Moreover, the acreage they took from the greensward have amounted to far more than was ever taken, temporarily as the event proved, for frontagers' gardens.

So much for the first phase of the controversial subject of "sales" of Stray land. The £171 l0s.6d. received in 1842-43 following Greeves's survey of encroachments was a godsend to the Stray Committee since it obviated the need to borrow further or extend the loan of £500 for improvements. The second phase, in the year 1843-44 was really no more than a completion of the process of tidying up past encroachments and agreeing on some new sales which amounted all told to a mere £20 5s. That, with the exception of an agreement with the Improvement Commissioners for the provision of a roadway in front of the Crown Hotel which cost the ratepayers £60 towards the end of the 1840s, was the end of sales of Stray land. This useful source of revenue having run out, it was necessary for the Stray Committee to look for another source.

It needs to be understood that though the management of the Stray had been given a statutory organisation, the business of the Stray Committee was essentially managerial and administrative on behalf of the whole body of gateholders, a primary object being the improvement of the herbage. Each individual gateholder remained as hitherto in possession of his rights of pasture which he could exercise either directly or indirectly and the indirect method was to let one's holding to any farmer who wished to graze some animals on the Stray. Alfred Greeves, for example, living in London, had no cattle. Neither had his brother, Charles. On Alfred's behalf, Charles rented Alfred's grazing rights to a William Thompson, joiner, who paid £3.5s. for a year in April, 1844, and agreed on a rent of £3 6s. for a further year, Greeves adding, "if too much £3 5s." which says something for money values in those days. This seems to have been the going rate though it must be remembered that as representative of an individual gateholder, Greeves was striking a private bargain.

The Stray Committee had; under the Act, authority to let "any additional number of Straygates for such term as they may think proper to any person not being at Stray Owner, the proceeds arising from such letting to be paid to the said Committee and to be appropriated from time to time as the major part of the Stray Owners assembled at such annual meeting shall direct".

It was, in short, an open-ended authority and we have seen that in the second year under the new Act, the Committee gained £15 12. for Straygates let. This, judging by Greeves's private transaction in letting a real, not an imaginary, Straygate would represent about five extra gates. Everything, of course, depended on how much the improving herbage would stand and clearly the improvement effected after the first year's work of drainage and clearing of whins justified no more than the renting off of five gates.

It was a different matter during 1843-44, the third year of operations. Sales of slips, virtually the last transactions of that kind, amounted only to £20 5s. but 12 or 13 extra gates were let for a total of £44 5s. These items together with receipts for the letting of the lanes and of stands for cabs and donkey carriages produced an income of a little more than £100 which also included cash "for a stand for wild beasts" (in other words, a. menagerie) £1 6s. 6d., in the previous year. The cost of labour that year, nearly £50, suggests that most of the Work on improvements had been completed for the expenditure included the wages of the herdsman or pinder. At the end of 1843-44, the committee had a balance in hand of a little more than £9.Greeves had paid the third and last instalment of £5 representing Alfred's liability under the levy for improvements. He paid in fact £5 4s. in March, 1844, being charged a year's interest at 4 per cent. It is typical of 3reeves, who was forever borrowing and repaying, that he paid any bill as late as possible, apparently accepting philosophically that since he tended to live beyond his income he must needs expect to add an element of int6rest to his living expenses. On the same day, March 28th. 1844. on which he records the payment of t5. 4s. by way of levy and interest, the gateholders resolved to let 20 gates in the following year "instead of the call for £5" which would have been a fourth levy. He added that if any profit accrued from these lettings a dividend would be divided among the gateholders.

Up to that point there had been no surplus to speak of. After three years' operations the balance in hand was a mere £9 3s., but in March, 1844, the gateholders could look forward to a year of much reduced expenditure. They did not, in fact, succeed in letting 20 gate's. The accounts for 1844-45 show that income from that source including for the first time mention of letting off the Bogs Field (above what are now the Valley Gardens) totalled £56 18s. 6d., a decided improvement on previous lettings but not quite the £65 or £70 which 20 extra gates would have yielded. Nevertheless, they ended the year with a surplus of £46 14s. 3d. and for the first time in their history the gateholders awarded themselves a dividend of £1 per gate. This would cost £5() which was more than the balance available for disposal, but the decision indicates the confidence the gateholders had in the prospect of extra lettings and of well contained expenditure.

It was a confidence which proved to be not misplaced. In the year 1846-47 (the accounts for 1845-46 are not available) the rents from extra gates yielded £68 12s. Income from cab stands rose to £30 13s. and the lanes were let at enhanced rents totalling £20 7s. Having paid dividends totalling £50 in 1845-46 the Committee had ended with a balance in hand of £46 7s. 8d. and the gateholders had awarded themselves a further dividend of £1 per gate in the 1846-47. The accounts for that year included two extra items. One was income of £119 9s. 6d. "from the Duchy Court". There is simply no knowing what this was for unless it represented the Duchy's willingness to pay for some past or present encroachment, possibly in Beech Grove. The other item was £10 received from Mr Atack. He was the contractor engaged on the rebuilding of the White Hart Hotel whose bad workmanship was to cause some difficulties which were righted at no small expense in the 20th century. Atack got away with his faulty building on the White Hart contract but he was not so successful some years later in respect of the building of Leeds Town Hall. He was relieved of his contract. It is fairly certain that the £10 he paid the Stray Committee in 1846-47 was for using the Stray in front of the White Hart as a temporary store place for building materials.

In the event, the gateholders ended 1846-47 with a handsome surplus of £184 14s 2d. and promptly awarded themselves a dividend of £2 per "share" (i.e. per gate) and also resolved that 25 additional Straygates should be let at £3 15s. each. Thus, within six years and for an expenditure of only £15 per gate from each holder, the condition of the Stray had been brought to the point where half as many more cattle than the original stint provided for could be grazed on the Stray. Moreover, the quality of improved grazing was held to be such as to justify a rent per gate of l0s. a year more than Greeves had charged his tenant on his brother's behalf. Since other income could be relied upon to meet the running costs of the Stray Committee including the common herdsman's wages, the gateholders could look forward to an annual dividend of £2 per gate and for the remainder of the period covered by the surviving printed accounts this was indeed the policy.

Visiting entertainments, by no means a frequent occurrence, also brought the Stray Committee a little extra income on which, as we shall see, they improved considerably as time went on. In the first decade they twice received a rent of £2 12s. "for a circus and stalls".

All told, the amounts involved in the Stray Committee's accounts during that first decade will not at this distance seem very considerable but it needs to be borne in mind that by the late 1840s the total profit accruing to the Stray's 200 acres at the rate of £5 15s. for each of 50 gates represented more than £250 which the owner of 200 acres of grazing land, improved from near-moorland conditions, would surely have considered satisfactory. Within the decade, the value of a Straygate had increased from £80 to about £130. Charles Greeves, whose home was commodious enough to provide accommodation for the Earl and Countess of Warwick and their "suite" returned an income, for tax purposes, of £98.


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