The Stray Defence Association came into being on the 12th May 1933 and more than 80 years later its objective remains the same, to safeguard Harrogate's Stray against building and encroachment from all quarters and uphold the Act granting freedom of the Stray to all people for all time.
Wrapped around the very centre of the town the 200 acres of the Stray are an intrinsic and unique part of what makes Harrogate special.
This delightful North Yorkshire town is renowned for its elegant buildings, floral displays and once famous 'medicinal' spa waters and is also the town voted the happiest place in Great Britain for two years running now.
Not such a happy place in 1932 however. Most people went about their business, used to seeing the splendour of the Stray but not giving it too much thought until Harrogate's Council approved a plan to create 38 extremely large formal beds, to be filled with plants and shrubs, along the West Park Stray between Otley Road and the Crown Hotel.
Their plan incensed local people and there followed a lengthy campaign to fight it. A vociferous crusade was conducted in the local press and the public were openly contemptuous and angry toward the council’s attempts to reduce the Stray’s unspoilt grassland. However, the councillors were equally contemptuous of public opinion and put their scheme into action, beginning work to dig up the Stray in a flagrant breach of the 1893 Act protecting it.
This wilful disregard of both the Stray’s legal protection and the will of the townsfolk caused serious repercussions, such was local fury. A storm of anger was unleashed and at one point Harrogate people sent their domestic staff to invade the Council offices in the Wintergardens, which had to be evacuated.
In another heated action residents drove a cavalcade of Rolls Royce cars over the newly dug flowerbeds on West Park Stray destroying these illegal infringements to their much beloved Stray.
The ultimate outcome of the residents’ wrath was the establishment of the Stray Defence Association which then put up candidates in all the elections held in 1933-34, winning overwhelmingly. With the result that the existing councillors, so scornful in their view of the public’s opinion, lost their seats. The new councillors then revoked all previous decisions and the Stray was returned to its original pristine state.
Still surrounding the town centre are those two hundred acres of land and trees known as The Stray. Through all seasons and all weathers residents and visitors alike benefit from this precious swathe of green in the heart of the town. From the carpets of crocus heralding spring, the early splendour of cherry blossom and the verdant green of summer, to the glorious array of autumnal colours and the snows of winter Harrogate's Stray is an integral and much loved part of the town's history.
The Stray Defence Association is here to ensure it remains part of its future.
On August 19 1778, under the Enclosures Act of 1770, the control and management was established of 200 acres of open common in Harrogate which had been pastures for all and sundry from time immemorial.
'The said two hundred acres of land shall forever hereafter remain open and unenclosed and all persons whomsoever shall and may have free access at all times to the said springs, and be at liberty to use and drink the waters there arising, and take the benefit thereof, and shall and may have, use, and enjoy full and free ingress, egress and regress, in, upon, and over, the said two hundred acres of land, and every, and any part thereof, without being subject to the payment of any acknowledgment whatsoever for the same, or liable to any action of trespass, or other suit, molestation, or disturbance whatsoever, in respect thereof.