Saturday, 16 April 2016

With John Fry, builder, sawyer, land agent and appraiser in Eltham circa 1837

Fry's Buidlings numbered as 264-275 in 1844
John Fry is another of those people that has faded pretty much from history.

He appears only once in The Story of Royal Eltham* and yet the more I looked into the contemporary records the more there was about the man.

He is there of course in the census returns but also the land tax records, the tithe schedule and the parish records.

Not bad for a man who up until recently I knew only as a name for a block of cottages tucked behind the High Street.

All of which remains an instructive lesson in how even the forgotten of history can be rediscovered.

Which begs the question of why John Fry?

The answer is partly because the paper trail is there and also that such people were important to the community and so deserve to be recorded as such.

He was born in 1792 in Kent, possibly at Tunbridge and may have been in Eltham by 1818 for although I can find no record of his marriage to Henrietta she was from Eltham and their first daughter was baptized in the parish church in October 1819.

The Smithy just a littel east of their home, 1909
He described himself variously as a builder, carpenter, sawyer, land agent and appraiser and in 1833 he built Fry’s Buildings which were just north of the High Street.

They were twelve wooden cottages** which faced east across the fields with longish gardens at the rear.

The buildings were only demolished in 1957 to make way for an extension to Hinds Store and an additional playground to the old village school on Roper Street.

As cottages go they were a decent size consisting of three rooms upstairs and two down.***  And in 1837 were assessed for the land tax at £3 12shillings.

It was these properties which allowed him to qualify to vote in Parliamentary elections and in the election of 1837 he voted for the two Tory candidates.

Fry's Buidlings and their home shown in in yellow, 1858-73
His standing in the community was high enough for him to be one of the assessors for the land tax in 1837 and he was active as a church warden.

All of which does bring him out of the shadows.

We know also that his three daughters were all baptized in the parish church, and that he his eldest was still living with him in 1871.****

There is still much to uncover but as  a start I am pretty pleased with how much we know about John and Harriet and so we will leave them in their house set back from the High Street in a long garden a little west of his twelve cottages.

This house, the workshop and his garden he rented from a Francis Kirkpatrick of which
more later.

Location; Eltham, London

*R.R.C.Gregory, the Story of Royal Eltham, 1909
**Ibid Gregory
***1911 census
**** Harriet, 1819, Lydia, 1823,and Sarah 1825

Pictures, detail of Eltham High Street,  1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone,
and Fry's Buildings from the the OS map of Kent 1858-73, the Smithy from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,

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