YORK’S status as a military city goes back a very long way - the best part of 2,000 years, in fact.

The city’s strategic location at the confluence of two rivers in the heart of northern England has meant that it has been an important military base since Roman times.

The Roman fortress of Eboracum was founded by the Ninth Legion in 71 AD, and the Roman city was later base to the Sixth Legion which helped build Hadrian’s wall.

When the Romans left, the city became the capital first of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria and then of a Viking trading empire.

After the Norman conquest, William the Conqueror built two castles either side of the Ouse near its confluence with the Foss from which to oppress unruly northerners following his ‘harrying of the north’. And during the Civil War, a Royalist garrison was stationed in Clifford’s Tower. After the city fell to the Parliamentarians, a Parliamentary garrison moved in instead.

By about 1720, military quarters had been established off what is now Fishergate, roughly where the police station is today.

In 1792, a few years after the start of the French Revolution, William Pitt launched a barracks-building programme - although it seems to have been intended more as a way of keeping the peace at home rather than preparing for war with France.

York Press:

Cavalrymen at ease: the Segeant-Majors of the 5th Dragoon Guards at York, 1872. Photo: York Army Museum

Land was bought in Fulford Field in 1793, and a large cavalry barracks was built between 1795 and 1796. Three troops of ‘ancient British fencibles’, or light dragoons, moved in in October 1795.

These were essentially militia cavalry, who were used as mobile police, says Graeme Green, the retired Dragoons major who is Regimental Secretary of The Royal Dragoon Guards and who helps run York’s Army Museum.

Many towns across Yorkshire and the rest of the country would have had their own cavalry garrison. And they were used to police unrest - such as at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 when cavalry charged into a crowd of up to 80,000 who had gathered to demand parliamentary reform.

“They were very much about maintaining internal security,” Mr Green says.

By 1847, the cavalry barracks were garrisoned by 10 officers and 210 men of the 5th Dragoon Guards. They continued to be occupied by cavalry regiments (including Hussars and Lancers as well as Dragoons) throughout the 1800s. In fact, cavalry were still stationed there until well after the First World War.

York Press:

The Sergeants of the 5th Dragoon Guards at York in 1872. Photo: York Army Museum

The cavalry barracks are now long gone - today’s police station off Fulford Road is built roughly on the barracks’ site. But in the last quarter of the 19th century a new barracks familiar to everyone who lives in York today had been built.

The infantry barracks that we know as Imphal Barracks date from 1877. They resulted from the Cardwell Reforms undertaken by Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell between 1868 and 1874 with the support of Gladstone.

The British Empire was at its zenith and, to aid recruitment, the army decided to introduce localised units that would be able to recruit soldiers from local farms and villages, Mr Green says.

As a result of the reforms, the War Department bought 35 acres of land on the south side of the cavalry barracks for the princely sum of £22,000, and the York infantry barracks were built. The 14th Regiment of Foot, which had been largely a southern unit, moved to York and was re-named the West Yorkshire Regiment.

York Press:

The Keep and Main Gate of the West Yorkshire Regiment Depot at Imphal Barracks in 1953. Photo: York Army Museum

During the Second World War, The West Yorkshire Regiment fought at the Battle of Imphal in north east India, where they were part of the Allied forces who drove the Japanese back into Burma - a turning point in the Burmese campaign. The barracks were renamed Imphal Barracks in the 1950s in honour of the part The West Yorkshire regiment had played.

In 1958 The West Yorkshire Regiment amalgamated with The East Yorkshire Regiment to form The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, and the barracks also became home of the Army’s Northern Command, significantly increasing York’s military significance.

The Army’s 2nd Division moved to York in the early 1980s, reinforcing the city’s status as a military HQ. The Division relocated to Edinburgh in 2000, despite a campaign - backed by the Evening Press - for it to stay in York.

But Imphal remained an important military base as HQ of 15 (North East) Brigade - a ‘regional brigade’ responsible for training army reserve units and army cadets from Sheffield in the south to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north. In 2014, the brigade merged with 4 Brigade and moved its HQ to Catterick, But the arrival at Imphal of the headquarters of the 1st (UK) Division under Major General Giles Hill just over a year ago appeared to cement the city’s military standing once more.

York Press:

Major General Giles Hill at Imphal

This week’s announcement throws the city’s long-term future as a military HQ into doubt once more - as well as threatening the loss of many hundreds of jobs.

But Imphal is not scheduled to close until 2031. York’s strategic location at the confluence of two rivers matters little in today’s world of hi-tech warfare waged at long distance with sophisticated weaponry. But this remains a city rich in military history and tradition. And there’s still plenty of time for things to change once again...

The Strensall camp

IMPHAL is not the only major army barracks in York.
Strensall Camp, as the army base located in the heart of the small York suburb of Strensall was originally known, was formed by the War Office in 1884 for training troops.

The site as a whole covers about 1800 acres and stretches as far as Towthorpe to the west. To this day, parts of Strensall Common remain an important military training area. Photographs dating from the 1914-1918 show that the Strensall army camp was an important mustering point for troops during mobilisation for the First World War.

York Press:

AT EASE: Troops at Strensall army camp during mobilisation for the First World War. From The Lengthening War: The Great War Diary of Mabel Goode, published by Pen & Sword 

The barracks were renamed Queen Elizabeth II Barracks in the 1950s. In 1960, they become the regional centre for infantry training as the Yorkshire Brigade Depot, and in 1968 the barracks became the depot of the King’s Division.

In 2000, The Press revealed how Strensall was to become a UK centre for the field hospital training of all military medics. Just over two years ago, in October 2014, 120 doctors, nurses and combat medical technicians from 22 Field Hospital trained in a purpose-built replica base inside a hangar at the Army Medical Services Centre in Strensall before deploying to Sierra Leona to help fight the deadly Ebola outbreak there.

The camp is now the home of Headquarters 2 Medical Brigade, 34 Field Hospital, HQ Strensall Training Centre, 4 Cadet Training Team, Army Medical Services (Force Troops Command) and other units.