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William Fry (1837 – 1916)

From Railwayman to Secretary of the Salt Schools

William Fry was born in 1837 in Wellington, Somerset. His parents were William and Ann Fry. In the 1851 Census William Fry senior was described as an agricultural labourer and William Fry junior was described as a stone mason’s tender. However by the time of the 1861 Census William Fry was living in lodgings in Derby and was working as a railway porter. In 1862 he moved to Colne to work as a porter but by the time of his marriage to Mary Ann Dunn in November 1862 (in the Independent Chapel, Wellington) he was described as a ticket collector on a railway. His next move was to Millers Dale as the station master and in 1866 he moved to Otley as the station master. In the 1871 census he was living at Prospect Villa with his wife and 4 children. (3 of whom had been born in Otley).It is difficult to find out much about William Fry’s life in Otley. The Congregational Church has no records relating to him; however he may have been a member of the Mechanics Institute, and retained a connection, as in 1883 he gave a talk there relating to a tour of Scotland

According to William Fry’s obituary it was in Otley that he was brought into association with Mr John Scriven who pointed out to Mr Titus Salt ‘the qualifications of Mr Fry for the management of the educational trust which was being established by Sir Titus Salt. From that time forward, Mr Fry was closely associated with all the educational affairs of Saltaire – the High Schools, the Institute, and the Technical School.’ In the 1881 Census William Fry is described as the Secretary of the Salt Schools and he, his wife and children were living at 24, George Street. The children were Ida, William, Ernest, Percy, Edgar, George and Mabel. George Cecil Fry was baptised at the Congregational Church in 1876 and Mabel was baptised at the Congregational Church in 1880. William Fry and Mary Ann his wife are not stated to be members; however they are both listed in the 1898 Roll of Members and by 1903 William Fry is a deacon and a signatory on an illuminated address presented to Catherine Salt when she left Saltaire.

When the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition was being planned (in 1886/1887) William Fry was described as Secretary and General Manager; a position which meant that he worked closely with Titus Salt junior. It also involved travelling round the country to visit other exhibitions at Edinburgh, Folkestone and Liverpool as well as the Colonial Exhibition in London and writing numerous letters in order to obtain exhibits and enlist support for the Exhibition; this was not an easy task as ‘obscurity, too small an affair’ were ‘prominent ideas to be combated’

By the time of the 1891 Census the family had moved to Myrtle Cottage; in 1901 they were at 5, Myrtle Place; sadly Mary Fry had died in that year. In 1902 William Fry retired as Secretary of the Saltaire Institutions after a period of nearly 29 years. At a presentation to mark his retirement it was stated that ‘a good deal of the success of the schools might fairly be attributed to his arduous and constant efforts. It had not been an easy matter to fill the post of secretary, but it could always be said of Mr Fry that everybody connected with the schools had found him most approachable.’ In 1911 William Fry was described as Public Librarian and was living at 233, Bingley Road with his daughter Mabel. He retired from this position in 1912 (due to ill health) and died in 1916.(He was buried in Nab Wood Cemetery).

On his death various public bodies paid tribute to him. At a meeting of the Shipley Education Committee the Chairman Councillor C.E. Learoyd made a reference to the death of William Fry ‘the secretary of the Salt Schools for a large number of years, under the Salt family originally, and later under the Governors and the Shipley Education Committee. The deceased gentleman’s work had been the subject of satisfaction to those who had employed him in a public capacity.’ At a meeting of the Libraries Committee the Chairman Councillor E. Cowgill pointed out ‘that Mr Fry had held a public position in the town for the past 44 years and been in the service of the Council since 1902, as secretary of the Salt Schools and chief librarian.’ Mr E. Allsop the chairman of the Governors of Sir Titus Salt’s hospital said that he was sure that the Governors ‘were all very sorry to learn of the death of an old servant, who had done so much useful and conscientious work for the town for over forty years.’

One of the possible reasons why William Fry moved to Saltaire might have been because he saw that his children would be able to benefit from the educational opportunities being set up in Saltaire. (He himself seems to have had very little formal education but may have used the facilities provided in Mechanics Institutes). Indeed two of his sons were the first boys to be enrolled in the Salt Schools. George Cecil Fry went to the Yorkshire College on a scholarship from the Boys High School and graduated BSc from the Victoria University. William Arthur Fry attended art classes in the Institute before moving to Ireland where he exhibited regularly with the Royal Hibernian Academy and Percy Fry gained medical experience helping in the hospital.

According to the newspaper account of William Fry’s funeral ‘Mr Arthur Fry is an artist at Belfast; Mr Ernest Fry is in business in London; Dr Percy Fry is in practice at Sowerby Bridge; Mr Clifford Fry is secretary of Messrs John. V. Goodwin and Co. Bradford; and the Rev. Cecil Fry is curate of Beeston, Notts.’ Ida Fry had married George Leslie Armstrong at the Congregational Church and Mabel Fry taught physical education at the Institute. (She was a Licentiate British College of Education, trained and certificated).

Author – Tish Lawson

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