Shortly after the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939, it dawned on the British people that their survival depended on an extraordinarily great effort by the entire population, and that some traditional rights and privileges would have to be suspended during what was correctly known as the “national emergency”.
Up to September 1939, few privileges in Harrogate were more highly prized and vigorously defended than the right of unrestricted access to the Stray, that wonderful extent of over 200 acres of land that had been given to the people in the Great Award of 1778. As the council discovered to its cost in 1932-4, and again in 1954-5, when attempts were made by the authority to “put the Stray to good use”, the public had always managed to thwart their intentions, thanks to the unequivocal nature of the various Acts of Parliament relating to the Stray, and the joint control of the Stray by the council - who control the surface, and the Duchy of Lancaster, who own the sub-soil.
In 1939 however, it was realised that the emergency required special action, and the Stray was dedicated to the production of food, without which there would be no future population to enjoy any use of the Stray whatsoever. The Agricultural Executive Committee of the West Riding of Yorkshire took over the administration of the Stray’s surface, and planted crops on a wide scale. One of the largest extents of planting was on south Stray, between Wetherby Road and the railway line, and indeed an earlier article has described the wheat and potatoes grown, with an evocative photograph of harvesting by volunteers from the Civil Service, who had been evacuated from war time London.
At the time of this article, one or two readers asked if I had any photographs of the smaller allotments that were run by many of the townspeople, but as I did not have any, I could not satisfy the requests. The allotments seem to have been concentrated on the Stray opposite the Granby Hotel, on the south Stray somewhere between the railway line and Leeds Road, and most of all, on the West Park Stray opposite Beech Grove. In common with usual allotment practice, each was surrounded by fencing, which before 1939 would have been unthinkable.
The Stray was of incalculable help to the civilian population during the Second World War, and I have no knowledge of even a single voice protesting at the clear breaches of the Stray Act. However, the ending of the war in 1945 saw calls for the restoration of the open herbage, but the difficult conditions of the late 1940s meant that such restoration was not immediately possible.
A significant step was taken in 1950, when the Agricultural Committee released 37 acres between the railway line and Oatlands Drive, with ploughing and grass seeding occurring in April 1950. The head of Harrogate’s Parks and Gardens Department, Mr W Bishop, advised the public that the Stray would not be ready for football and other games until the following year, and people were asked not to ride horses across until the grass was established.
The small allotments on both Beech Grove and Tewit Well Stray were removed, the holders being compensated with new allotments at Rossett Way and Harlow Hill. This week’s photograph, a very poor quality reproduction from the Advertiser of April 25 1947, printed on austerity quality paper, shows, at right the allotment fences at the Tewit Well, shortly before their removal. At far right may be seen the now demolished building of the Dr Barnado’s Home, which in 1914 had been acquired by the Grand Duchess George of Russia for use as a hospital for wounded soldiers. It is interesting to observe the size of the Chestnut Tree opposite Tewit Well, which has subsequently grown to enormous proportions. If any reader has a better quality photo of the Stray allotments, I would love to see it.