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William Fry, 1837 – 1916

From railwayman to manager of Saltaire's schools

William Fry had a modest background, and worked for many years on the railways as a porter, ticket collector and station master.

But he had hidden talents, and was transformed in his thirties when he moved to Saltaire to become the Secretary of the Salt Schools. William was to give over 40 years of service as secretary, general manager and head librarian of the various schools in Saltaire.

Early life and working on the railway

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 in Lancashire to work as a porter. 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). He may have been a member of the Mechanics Institute, and he retained a connection, as in 1883 he gave a talk in Otley relating to a tour of Scotland.

C2b-091: Saltaire Railway Station with steam train, 1909
C2b-091: Saltaire Railway Station with steam train, 1909

Move to Saltaire

E1b-125: Salt High School building
E1b-125: Salt High School building

According to William’s obituary it was in Otley that he met John Scriven who pointed out to Titus Salt ‘the qualifications of Mr Fry for the management of the educational trust’ that Salt was establishing. From then on, William was closely associated with all the educational affairs of Saltaire: the High Schools, the Institute, and the Technical School.

In the 1881 Census William is described as the Secretary of the Salt Schools. He was living at 24 George Street with his wife Mary Ann and children Ida, William, Ernest, Percy, Edgar, George and Mabel. Some of the children were baptised at the Congregational Church. By 1903 William was a deacon and a signatory on an illuminated address presented to Catherine Salt when she left Saltaire.

One of the possible reasons why William moved to Saltaire might have been because of the new educational opportunities being developed. Two of his sons were the first boys to be enrolled in the new Salt High Schools established in 1876. 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. Percy Fry gained medical experience helping in Saltaire’s hospital.

Royal Yorkshire Jubilee

When the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition was being planned (in 1886/1887) William was described as Secretary and General Manager, a position that meant he worked closely with the exhibition’s patron Titus Salt Junior. It also involved traveling round the country to visit other exhibitions at Edinburgh, Folkestone and Liverpool, and the Colonial Exhibition in London 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’. And writing to the Board of the Salt Schools about a possibly unreliable contact who had promised to find exhibits, Fry exclaims ‘drowning men catch even at straws. Must we put ourselves in his hands to try and save ourselves…’

E1a-063: Letter from WIlliam Fry to Salt Schools Board about difficulties with finding exhibits for the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition
E1a-063: Letter from WIlliam Fry to Salt Schools Board about difficulties with finding exhibits for the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition

Long service and retirement

C3a-164: Letter regarding pension
C3a-164: Letter regarding pension

By the time of the 1891 Census the family had moved to Myrtle Cottage; in 1901 they were at 5, Myrtle Place, Bingley. Sadly Mary Fry had died in that year. In 1902 William 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 a 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 the nearby 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.

E2b-026b: Technical College (Exhibition Road Building) in about 1919
E2b-026b: Technical College (Exhibition Road Building) in about 1919

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