Village of the Week: Strensall was Yorkshire's military heart - but faces a different future when barracks close

YORKSHIRE’S great military tradition is felt very strongly in Strensall, the picturesque village that stands on the River Foss a few miles north of York.

Generations of soldiers have undergone training at Queen Elizabeth Barracks, which has been an integral part of the life of the village since being established in 1884.

Troops were readied to fight in two world wars in Strensall, and the barracks have remained vital to the British Army as it has adapted to changing eras and challenges.

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But now there is uncertainty over the future of the base, and what that will mean to the 6,200 residents of Strensall. The barracks, which are home to the Army Training Unit (North East) and the 2nd Medical Brigade, are due to close next year and it is not yet clear what will happen to the vast site.

Village of The Week. Strensall near York.Village of The Week. Strensall near York.
Village of The Week. Strensall near York.

But one thing is certain – Strensall Common, one of Yorkshire’s most precious natural treasures, much of which is Ministry of Defence land and used for training, will be protected from any development and remain open to everyone to explore.

The common enjoys Britain’s highest level of environmental protection and is a haven for wildlife, with more than 60 species of bird and over 150 different varieties of plants. Part of the common is in the care of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Councillor Tony Fisher, chairman of Strensall with Towthorpe Parish Council, and one of the area’s ward councillors on City of York Council, said: “It’s very, very sensitive, but it’s also completely open for people to walk on, except when the army are training and shut off the firing range. It’s a fantastic area of public access. I walk on it endlessly.”

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But the future of the barracks themselves is less clear. Strensall Camp, as it was known for decades after being established, was renamed Queen Elizabeth Barracks in the 1950s in honour of the then-new monarch. It is one of the biggest army camps in the north, and a centre for infantry training for many years.

St Mary's Church, Strensall near YorkSt Mary's Church, Strensall near York
St Mary's Church, Strensall near York

The barracks can accommodate 120,000 people a year and includes pitches for football, cricket, rugby and hockey. The Government announced the closure in 2016, with the initial scheduled date of 2021 later being put back to 2024.

Coun Fisher said: “We cherish the barracks very much and it’s unfortunate that the Government has scheduled it for closure.

“One possibility is that it could end up as housing, but the local plan for the city of York has put a cordon round the common in which no further development will be permitted and that precludes the vast majority of the site being used for housing, although the Ministry of Defence are challenging that.

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“The site would be worth about £35m for housing, but there are a lot of constraints on which bits they could actually develop.

Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Strensall near York.Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Strensall near York.
Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Strensall near York.

“We would have no objection to some housing on the site. The city of York needs housing, but we wouldn’t want the whole site developing because clearly it’s not feasible.”

But Strensall is still hoping that the barracks could yet be reprieved, because the army intends to continue using the common for training.

Coun Fisher said: “We hope the Government will come to its senses and realise the range is being kept and they have to provide some kind of accommodation or bus the troops in every day and that to me is not sustainable, so why not keep the barracks open?”

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If part of the site does become new housing, its residents will join a thriving village that is one of the most popular places to live for commuters into York, not only because of its convenience for the city, but for its strong community spirit.

That’s to be found in its two pubs, local shops and sports club. Strensall has a long history, going back to its mention in the Domesday Book.

“The village is very peaceful and quiet community village,” said Coun Fisher.

“There is a very, very good social network within the village. There is a group of volunteers who run a café every Wednesday morning in the church hall and that is very successful. The parish council gave a start-up grant to get it going and it now raises a considerable sum of money for charity.

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“We had a tremendous support network within the village during Covid, when a team of volunteers provided cake and soup for vulnerable residents and did their shopping. There is a community brunch every Saturday morning that helps people meet and socialise.”

For Strensall, as for every other village around York, commuting into the city isn’t always easy because of traffic congestion. But matters are likely to get better, with the opening of a new railway station nearby, as well as improvements to the roads.

Coun Fisher said: “Overall, the view in the village is very positive. The big new development is that as a result of HS2 being cancelled, the Government announced that money is now being put forward for a new station on the York to Scarborough line between Haxby and Strensall.

“We think that will be a massive asset to the village because a huge number of people commute far afield, and that will give us much better connectivity from Strensall to York because the roads can become very congested.

“The other good thing is the dualling of the York northern ring road, and that will relieve a lot of traffic congestion.”