Richard FRY 1780-1855 of Weston-super-Mare

Meet my ancestor, Richard FRY 1780-1855, my GGGG Grandfather on my father’s side. I think everyone who’s interested in family history secretly wants to discover that they are descended from Royalty, or at least someone important or wealthy. Well, so far I haven’t found any members of the nobility in my own family line, but Richard FRY may well be one of the most distinguished gentleman I can lay claim to.

He was an investor and hotelier. He co-financed, and for a time ran, the first hotel in Weston-super-Mare, England, now called The Royal Hotel. His portrait is also one of the collection of notable Weston-super-Mare locals from the mid-19th century held by the Weston Museum, which form the collection known as ‘The Weston Worthies’. So I have the rare pleasure of being able to look at the face of my GGGG Grandfather despite him having been born long before the invention of photography.

Richard FRY
Richard FRY – A portrait from the ‘Weston Worthies’ collection held by the Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton at the time of writing.

The Weston Worthies are a series of about 40 portraits owned by the Weston Museum (however they are not always on show and currently they are stored at the Somerset Herritage Centre in Taunton). They were painted in the mid 1800s and are thought to reflect men and women who were important in Weston during that time.

Richard FRY’s Early Life

Very little is known about Richard FRY’s early life, and I have so far struggled to even find out the name of his mother or anything very detailed about his father. All I know is that he was called William FRY. Another researcher believes his mother to have been named Hannah JONES but I am yet to be able to establish this with any accuracy.

You can read about my efforts to uncover information about Richard’s parents, and even join in the hunt for pieces of the puzzle, on my blog post “Mystery Ancestors: William FRY – Died 1813”.

What I do know, is that Richard FRY was born in Bisley, Gloucestershire in 1780 and he was christened in Bisley parish church.

Richard FRY, son of William FRY, was baptised in 1780 in Bisley, Gloucestershire
A simple entry “Rich’d of Will’m Fry”

I know nothing about his childhood or his adolescence but I do know that at some point he married a young woman named Elizabeth who was a few years older than him.

In 1804, a record shows that a Richard FRY married Elizabeth MAIDEN in Bristol at St Michael Archangel on the Mount. This Richard FRY described his occupation as a ‘Servant’ on the marriage registry, but my ancestor Richard FRY would go on to become quite successful as a Lodging House Keeper, Hotel investor and land owner, so I’m unsure as to whether this record is accurate, or whether he had some great shift in fortune at some point. Perhaps Elizabeth his new wife came with a substantial income.

N.B. There is some later evidence to suggest that Elizabeth’s maiden name had in deed been MAIDEN, because Richard and Elizabeth FRY had a son who would go on to name one of his own daughters Emily Maiden FRY and they also had a daughter who went on to also give one of her children the middle name of Maiden, so it does seem likely that Elizabeth MAIDEN was indeed Richard’s wife.

Elizabeth FRY (nee MAIDEN), Richard FRY’s Wife. A portrait taken from a small pendant which was, at one time, in the possession of Ann Wolforth a fellow descendant.

Richard’s Family Life

After Richard and Elizabeth married, the young couple remained childless for the first nine years of their marriage. This would have been quite unusual and may have been a source of difficulty and disappointment for the couple.

However, Richard’s business interests seem to have flourished. The couple resided for some time in a property in Sion Row, Clifton, near Bristol (close to where the Clifton Bridge would one day be erected) and became lodging house keepers in this fashionable neighbourhood close to the by now quite famous Hotwell Spas.

Map of Clifton c1820 showing Sion Row properties to the centre left.

It seems that Richard’s father, William FRY, must have lived there with them at least for some time, because he died there in 1813 shortly after Richard and Elizabeth had their first child together.

Their daughter Elizabeth FRY, named after her mother no doubt, was born on 26th April 1813. She was baptised in St Andrew’s Church, the main church in Clifton, up on Clifton Hill, at that time.

St Andrew's Church Clifton c 1822
c1822 The old parish church in Clifton, St Andrew’s, where Richard and Elizabeth had both their children baptised stands in front in this image. This image was created later, following the building of a new larger parish church to the rear and the old parish church which the family had attended, was subsequently demolished.

On his daughter Elizabeth’s baptism registry, Richard described his occupation as a ‘Lodging House Keeper’ so it does seem they were already running a lodging house in Sion Row Clifton, before later moving to Weston. Elizabeth would later grow up and go on to marry my GGG Grandfather Joseph JAMES which is how I am related to the FRY family.

Around three years after their daughter was born, in 1816, Richard and Elizabeth had their second and only other child together. This time they had a son, who they named Richard FRY, after his own father, Richard senior. Perhaps the cultural expectation to name him after Richard’s own father William had been lessened, since he had already passed away a couple of years earlier.

Richard FRY junior would grow up, and the family educated him at Rock House School at Yatton, not far from Bristol. After that, he became an apprentice Carpenter, and later, when he was an adult, he left his mother and father in order to travel to the other side of the world where he landed in New Zealand as a young man during the settlement migration. He would go on to help establish the city of Dunedin and he became a well-known and influential developer there. Thanks to him, I have discovered I have a whole network of distant cousins and fellow descendants of Richard FRY senior living down under!

Richard FRY’s Occupation as a Hotelier

Prior to having a family, Richard FRY was known to have become an investor and later, a hotelier. He capitalised on the growing popularity and trend for visiting the seaside (promoted as a healthy location for the middle and upper classes to holiday in the late 18th century and turn of the 19th century) by helping to finance the building of the first ever hotel in Weston-super-Mare. After a very rocky start, the Hotel eventually opened in 1810 and is still in operation today in 2020 (You can read my other blog post about the history of the Hotel HERE).

Richard the Entrepeneur

In around 1807 or 1808, Richard FRY joined together with two men who were existing business partners, Richard PARSLEY and William COX, who had spotted an opportunity to develop land at a rural and unspoiled sea-side village named Weston-super-Mare. Along with another man named James CAPELL of Ashcome, the four men formed a business partnership in a speculative endeavour to transform the village of Weston into a tourist destination by building a Hotel.

They purchased the site of an old burnt out farmhouse which had burned down on Whit Sunday in 1792 and had then remained dilapidated. This land which was close to the sea front, was where they planned to build the new Hotel.

The site was picturesque and a little set back from the shore, surrounded by open fields and very little else but the old Church of St John and Leeve’s beach-fronted thatched Holiday Cottage.

The foundation stone for the new hotel was laid in 1808 however, it seems the project was not at all straightforward. On 20 June 1808, the Rev Wadham Piggott, then the Lord of the Manor, wrote to a George Cumberland saying

“The cold weather has kept back the company from this place: now they begin to swarm a little. The Hotel is unfinished, and I have my doubts of it ever answering as such”

Eventually, the building work was finished, but it took two years to get to the point where it could finally open, and even then, it seems to have had something of a false start.

A contemporaneous image of the original Hotel at Weston created c1815 shows that initially it had a good amount of land around it, free of building development, and an unencumbered view of the sea (to the left of this picture). At this time, Leeve’s Cottage can be seen still with it’s original three roof sections (before a later fire left only the tallest building standing) and St John’s parish church can be seen up the hillside behind the Hotel.

The Hotel was initially tenanted to a man named James NEEDHAM who was a Bristol Hotelier of sixteen years. So he was already highly experienced in the industry of hospitality.

Richard FRY, having invested in the building of the Hotel, remained resident in Clifton himself, where he ran his own lodging house in Sion Row. He would continue to do so for quite some time after the new Hotel at Weston had been built but it seems highly likely that he would have visited the area frequently.

In June 1810, a notice was placed in the Bristol Mirror advertising the opportunity for ‘Sea Bathing’ and announcing the opening of the first Hotel in Weston, so this marked the birth of Weston-super-Mare as a resort.

19th July 1810 advertisement in the Bath Chronicle placed by James Needham to alert the public that the hotel had been fitted up and was ready to receive guests.

It was clear that the project had a very rocky start however and it is unlikely that Richard FRY saw any return on his investment at this stage. It was advertised as being open, and yet then the opening was delayed. Then, when it did finally open, only a few months later, it closed again due to lack of custom or visitors and the contents of the hotel had to be auctioned off.

A notice for the auction of furniture and goods due to debt posted on 1st June 1811 in The Bristol Mirror

Richard’s investment must have seemed initially as if it had been very unwise. The hotel remained closed for three years. Building and development in the area of Weston in general, however, seems to have continued, and a row of terraced properties in nearby South Parade was believed to have been built in around 1813.

The Hotel opened again in 1814. Unfortunately, it was still quite unsuccessful, most likely because travel to Weston was still not easy.

After this, a man named John SAWTELL seems to have taken over the tenancy of the hotel. It was now several years since the hotel had initially been built.

On 26th April 1817, he placed a notice in the newspaper which read:

“Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. Twenty-two Miles from Bristol, and Thirty from Bath. JOHN SAWTELL respectfully informs the Nobility, Gentry, and the Public in general, that the HOTEL is open for the reception of Company; and he trusts it will not be found unworthy their patronage. To the Beds every attention has been paid: and the Chambers are well aired. – The Larder will be liberally supplied; and the Wines may be relied upon as of the first vintage and quality. A regular Post every day to and from Weston. Good stabling and lock up Coach-Houses. The usual accommodation for BATHING. A Four-Horse COACH from the Hope and Anchor, Redcliffe-Hill, every Wednesday and Saturday, at 2 O’clock.”

The original notice from 26th April 1817 which John Sawtell placed in the newspaper when he took over the Hotel at Weston.

Mr Sawtell, however, doesn’t seem to have had the best of luck with his hotel either . In December 1817, according to a newspaper report, it was burgled!

The report explains that a new Inn at nearby Worle was broken into, and then it adds “The same morning, between 12 and 1 O’clock, the Hotel, Weston-super-Mare, was broken open, and robbed of one gilt and one silver watch, and other articles. N.B. Three men, of suspicious appearance, stopped at New Inn on Monday night, with two horses and some sacks, and took supper in the room through the window which the robbers forced an entrance.”

December 1817 news report about a burglary at the Hotel at Weston.

Perhaps this event, along with a general struggle to make the Hotel profitable, led John Sawtell to give up on the project too. The original investors, including Richard Fry, and several tenants by this point had not seemed to be able to make a success of the Hotel at all. So eventually, in 1818, it seems that Richard Fry took matters into his own hands and decided to run the Hotel himself!

Richard Fry Takes Over the Hotel at Weston-super-Mare

In 1818, Richard moved, along with his wife two young children who were just toddlers, away from fashionable and busy Clifton, to the relatively remote and rural sea-side retreat of Weston-super-Mare. Having taken over the running of the hotel that he had initially helped to finance and and have built, it was now re-named Fry’s Hotel.

In 1818, he placed a notice in the Bristol Mirror Newspaper announcing that he had taken over the Hotel. It read:

“RICHARD FRY, of Clifton, begs leave most respectfully to inform his Friends and the Public, that he has taken the above House, where he trusts, by strict attention, a well stored Larder of the best Provisions, Wines and Spirits of the first qualities, added to the most reasonable charges, he shall merit the support of those Ladies and Gentlemen who may honour him with their patronage.”

The original notice Richard FRY placed in the newspaper, appearing on 25th April 1818 in the Bristol Mirror

Interestingly, a fellow descendent of Richard FRY (my father’s cousin Ann Wolforth who previously conducted a copious amount of research into our family history) inherited an original copy of the newspaper. This item is precious to us because it is a copy of the newspaper in which this advert appears and Richard Fry himself seems to have annotated the front of it in his own handwriting.

It’s very difficult to read, but it makes mention of his son Rich, being 2 years old at the time which would be accurate date wise. I wonder if it is badly spelled and says something like “This paper was dated one [when] my daughter Lizebeth was [ose] 39 months, my son Rich, 2 years old” but I can’t read it easily.

I am rather touched by the fact that he seems to have kept a copy of the newspaper and handed it down to his descendants, since it speaks of a man who was proud to take over this significant establishment, and as a result he become one of Weston’s first Hoteliers and probably its first successful one. It seems that he was quite a sentimental soul, as his later behaviours would also attest.

Fry’s Hotel Celebrations

Three years later, in 1821, the Coronation for the new King George was a great source of national celebration across England. The now growing town of Weston also celebrated along with the rest of the nation. Richard and his wife Elizabeth Fry held a lavish party at the hotel which was reported in the Bristol Mercury newspaper. The report read:

“At Weston-super-Mare, the inhabitants joined Mr. Fry, the worthy Landlord of the Hotel, in providing a dinner of good old English fare, for three hundred of the Parishioners. Loyalty and good cheer formed the order of the day; and at night, there was a magnificent exhibition of fire-works and other demonstrations of joy. Great praise is due to the resident Ladies, for their benevolent attention in waiting upon 200 Children, who partook of the feast.”

The original 1821 report in the Bristol Mercury about a Coronation celebration at Fry’s Hotel.

With 300 guests and 200 children present, it must have been quite a party and it ended with an exhibition of fire-works which must have been quite wonderful to see as they shone out over the bay of Weston-super-Mare.

A year later, another notice appeared in the paper which read:

“R. FRY returns his best thanks for favour conferred; and respectfully informs the Nobility and Gentry of Bristol, Clifton, and their vicinities, that he has refitted the Hotel; and he flatters himself, that by strict attention to business, he shall merit the favours of a generous Public. Four-Horse COACHES to and from Bristol every day in the Week.”

The original 1822 Notice regarding the refitting of Fry’s Hotel.

Interestingly, he makes mention of Bristol and Clifton but not Bath, which would have been another area where custom would have been sought from among the local gentry and nobility, but soon visitors from this area too would flock to Weston.

The Fry Family Move to Myrtle Cottage

In or around 1828, Richard and his family decided to leave Fry’s Hotel after having run it for around ten years, and Richard seems to have spotted an opportunity to purchase a property of his own, just next door, in South Parade.

In April 1828, a notice was placed in the Newspaper advertising the property at Number 7 South Parade for sale by auction. A Mr MAY who lived at No. 3 South Parade seems to have been an executor or owner of the property, and the advertisement described the property as:

“An excellent and most convenient dwelling house, fit for the residence of a family of respectability, most desirably situate, and being No. 7 on the South Parade, facing the Hotel Field, in the best part of the healthy village and improving Watering Place of Weston-super-Mare, commanding a delightful View of the Bristol Channel, with a Dwelling House and Outbuildings behind the same, capable of being converted, at a trifling expense, into a Coach-House and Stables.”

April 1828 notice of an auction of No. 7 South Parade.

However, in a notice on Page 2, of the Bristol Mirror just a few months later, on Saturday 19 July 1828, a further advert suggests that a Reverend James LYNAM had died and his house at No. 7 South Parade was to be auctioned off at a sale at Reeve’s Hotel on Monday July 28th 1828 at Six O’clock in the Afternoon. It is described with almost identical description and says it faced the “Hotel Field”.

Bristol Mirror 19 July 1828

I believe this dwelling house which was advertised, must have been the house which would then become known as Myrtle Cottage, and which is shown in the much later photo below, as the house on the far left.

The advert explained that there was a house behind this main dwelling house, which was suitable for conversion, and it also said it had views of the Bristol Channel. Only Myrtle Cottage would have had a view of the sea at this stage, being somewhat set back from the original Hotel next to it.

It is likely that there was already established Myrtle trees growing in front of the cottage when Richard FRY purchased it in 1828, and hence he may have given it the name Myrtle Cottage.

Interestingly, on the same page that this advert was placed, was another advert for the sale of Knightstone Island. This went on to be bought by Dr Fox, and Richard FRY’s son-in-law Joseph JAMES went on to work for Dr Fox both on the building development at Knightstone and then as the Superintendent there for many years.

In terms, of what Myrtle Cottage had been like as a home, an article in the newspaper called “Fortnight in Weston” which was published some years later, on 14th June 1845, describes Myrtle Cottage saying “Myrtle Cottage, the first in the Parade towards the Beach, has a profusion of myrtles and other evergreens in front, with the vine and pear trees covering their walls. Some remains of pinnacles and quatrefoils, vestiges of the old church, are blended, with considerable effect, amidst the florticultural decorations.” It seems likely therefore that Myrtle Cottage was built after the old Weston church was demolished in 1824, or perhaps extended in some way using materials from the old church, and that the property got it’s name after the Myrtle that grew there.

Meanwhile, after Richard left Fry’s Hotel, it was taken over by a man named John REEVE, and under his management, it became known as ‘Reeve’s Hotel’.

An advert for Reeve’s Family Hotel.

1836 Richard Builds The Masons’ Arms Which Then Becomes The Bath Hotel

The shape of the properties shown on this map below, from approximately 1828, shows that next to Myrtle Cottage and the other properties on South Parade, was a plot of land. It appears to be either a gap of land or else a building and development plot, between the terraced properties of South Parade and Myrtle Cottage, and it seems that it was not occupied at the time of the creation of this map.

Map of South Parade dated approximately 1828 showing Myrtle Cottage (440) with a substantial building behind it and what seems to be an empty plot alongside before the terraced properties to the right in South Parade.
The 1832 electoral records showing Richard FRY is living at a Freehold ‘cottage and premises’ Myrtle Cottage, South Parade, Weston-super-Mare. This was most likely his Lodging House with accommodation at the rear and before he later built further premises next door.

In 1836, Richard FRY built a taller building, right between Myrtle Cottage and the terraced houses in South Parade. This was a purpose built Inn and he called it The Mason’s Arms. However, soon it would be re-named as The Bath Hotel and it became Weston-super-Mare’s second Hotel.

At this point in time, Richard’s son-in-law, Joseph JAMES a carpenter and builder, was still living with the FRY family at Myrtle Cottage along with his wife, Richard’s only daughter Elizabeth and their own young daughter and new baby. It seems likely therefore, that he would have helped work on the new building. Moreover, Richard’s son, who was also named Richard FRY was by now aged 17 and he had apprenticed and become a carpenter too, so it would seem quite likely that he may have plied his own trade, at least in part, working on his father’s new building.

After Richard FRY had left Fry’s Hotel, and those premises had been purchased by John Reeve to become Reeve’s Hotel, something unusual seems to have happened. In 1836, there seems to have been some kind of legal dispute. It seems that a Mr George Wookey had somehow become involved in running Reeve’s Hotel, but then John Reeve had taken it back over following some kind of legal dispute and process.

On 10th August 1836, a notice appeared in the Newspaper saying:

Just ten days later however, another advertisement on Page 4 of the Bristol Mercury, on Saturday 20 August 1836 said:

“BATH HOTEL, South Parade, Weston-super-Mare, Somersetshire. George Wookey has the honour of announcing to the Residents at the above much-frequented Watering Place, its Visitors, and the Public in general, that, since his recent removal from Reeve’s Hotel, he has established himself in very commodious Premises, recently erected on the South Parade by Mr. Richard Fry; (which have hitherto been Licensed as the Masons’ Arms, but which, from, and after the 12 September next, will be known as the BATH HOTEL.) …”

So all the available documentary evidence points to the fact that Richard FRY must have left Fry’s Hotel in 1828, having been the winning bidder of the house next door, which he named Myrtle Cottage. Fry’s Hotel was taken over by John Reeve and renamed Reeve’s Hotel. Then Richard Fry ran his new home as a Lodging House, seemingly successfully, and, after a few years, on his plot of land, he erected a tall building which he initially had licensed as an Inn, calling it The Mason’s Arms. However, then George Wookey somehow got involved at Reeve’s Hotel, and following a legal dispute, Richard Fry decided to lease his Mason’s Arms out to George WOOKEY, who then decided to run it as a rival Hotel to Reeve’s Hotel which was just across the street. Hence in 1836, although Richard Fry let out ‘The Bath Hotel’ there must have been a climate of some considerable interpersonal conflict and competition with John Reeve just next door and the Fry family lived in the middle of it all!

In terms of what Richard Fry’s business premises The Bath Hotel, was like as a building, an article called “Fortnight in Weston” written in 1845, describes it thus:

“The Bath Hotel, conducted by Mr. G Wookey, is distinguished by two bow windows, and a balcony and veranda of trellis-work over the door-way; considerable taste has been displayed in the arrangements of the rock, stone and shrubs, which impart a pleasing character to the entrance; the whole having, not only the appearance but the reality of the comforts appertaining to a private mansion.”

The Fry family continued to live in Myrtle Cottage for many years. This was both their home and also their lodging house. In fact, this was to be the Fry’s family home, for many years to come until both Richard and Elizabeth Fry died. They must have lived quite comfortably because they had income coming in from the tenancy of the Bath Hotel and also a property at no.5 South Parade, as well as running Myrtle Cottage as a Lodging House. You can learn more about The Bath Hotel in my post HERE.

Myrtle Cottage shown here on the left is covered in what looks like Ivy and climbing Myrtle and The Bath Hotel is shown standing tall, having been built between Richard Fry’s house and the other dwellings on South Parade, one of which, no. 5, he also owned. This photograph was taken in around 1855.

Land records show that at some point, Richard also bought another property in South Parade (at number 5), which he most likely also let out to visitors. All in all, from the land records, it seems that Richard owned a substantial amount of land and property, and also occupied some of this, at No.s 5 , 7 & 8 South Parade (I believe number 7 was probably originally Myrtle Cottage, but later No.7 became The Bath Hotel and Myrtle Cottage was changed to become Number 8).

1837 Tithe Map of weston-super-Mare showing Richard Fry's property in South Parade.
1837 Tithe Map of Weston-super-Mare showing Richard Fry’s property at this time in South Parade. 440 is Myrtle Cottage (No. 8 South Parade), 439 is The Bath Hotel now run by Mr & Mrs Wookey, and he also owns the property at 436 (No. 5 South Parade).

A number of contemporary sketches and watercolour paintings, most likely created by visitors and tourists to the area, show that Reeve’s Hotel sat right alongside Myrtle Cottage, The Bath Hotel, terraced houses on South Parade, and these properties overlooked the ‘Hotel Field’ which was an area of open land with a pond, grazing animals and ducks where visitors and locals would promenade and relax.

Weston-super-Mare's original Hotel c1842
c1842 The Hotel Field (later Roger’s Field) showing from the left, Reeve’s Hotel, Myrtle Cottage, The Bath Hotel (later The Imperial), the dwellings and lodging houses of South Parade, properties in The High Street, and to the far right, Veranda House. The drawing of Reeve’s Hotel is not entirely accurate in this image as there were actually three windows on each of the upper floors rather than four.

Later Reeve’s hotel would change hands again and for a short time it would become known as ‘Rogers’ hotel under the management of Mr Thomas ROGERS, before then being renamed once more, to The Royal Hotel.

Where once there had been a relative lack of alcoholic beverage provision at the Hotel, Thomas Rogers would go on to create a wine and spirits merchants business as well as run the hotel. Today the Hotel still stands and has been expanded over the years. Following a Royal visit, it is now known as The Royal Hotel and is still welcoming visitors to Weston 200 years on.

An early print from 1860 showing Reeve’s Hotel and to the right of it, Myrtle Cottage and next to that, The Bath Hotel. The parish church can be seen to the left and The National School in between the church and Reeve’s Hotel.

It would seem that, despite its cosy name, Myrtle Cottage was a substantial residence. It is shown on the 1837 Tithe Map as being quite large and a number of existing contemporary sketches of the property show it to have been sizeable. In front, there was Hotel field, which developers were prevented from building upon so as not to interrupt the beautiful scenic views.

The Hotel field with Reeve’s Hotel to the left, Myrtle Cottage and The Bath Hotel illustrated in or around 1842

FRY Family Life

It is clear from various records that Richard and Elizabeth Fry’s daughter, Elizabeth JAMES (nee FRY), remained living at home with her parents when she married in a church in Bristol in 1832. Her new husband, Joseph JAMES came to live with the family at Myrtle Cottage and the cottage is listed as the birth place for their first four children together. Their first daughter, Elizabeth JAMES was born in 1834 at the cottage, and three more children followed, Richard, Mary Elizabeth and Thomas JAMES. Later, the young family would move out of Richard and Elizabeth’s cottage, over to Knightstone Island (in or around 1839), so it must have been a busy household for a number of years. From contemporary sketches it appears that Myrtle Cottage was perhaps extended to one side. This may have been to accommodate the growing family, or perhaps there was an annexe in which to house paying guests.

By 1841, according to the census, Richard FRY was a ‘Lodging House Keeper‘ and he had continued to live at Myrtle Cottage with his wife Elizabeth FRY nee MAIDEN. Their son, Richard FRY (now aged 22), was still living at home with them and he was listed as having the occupation of a Carpenter. However, their daughter, Elizabeth JAMES (nee FRY) was no longer living at home, most likely because she and her husband Joseph JAMES had moved by this point, along with their four young children, to Knightstone because Joseph worked closely with Dr Edward Long Fox, as his father had most likely done back in his home village of Brislington.

1841 Census Weston-super-Mare
1841 Census showing Richard FRY living with his wife and son at Myrtle Cottage, South Parade.

Richard and Elizabeth continued to live at Myrtle Cottage, and in 1846, the electoral register for Weston-super-Mare lists Richard FRY as owning Freehold property at both numbers 5 and 8 South Parade suggesting he no longer owned Number 7 by this point (which was most likely because he’d sold The Bath Hotel).

1846 Electoral Register showing Richard FRY as having Freehold property at 5 and 8 South Parade, Weston-super-Mare

1847 Richard’s Son Leaves Home for New Zealand

On 22nd November 1847, Richard and Elizabeth FRY’s son, Richard FRY (1816-1899) the younger, who was by now aged 30 years old, and yet still unmarried and most likely still living at home with his parents, made a momentous decision. Perhaps he felt that he was living in the shadow of his influential father and wanted to spread his wings and make his own mark on a new town. Whatever his motivation, the records show that he boarded a ship, called the “John Wycliffe”, at the port in Gravesend near London, and he set sail for the new world.

He went to live in New Zealand and after many weeks at sea, he arrived in Dunedin. There here applied his trade and helped to establish the new settlement there. Very soon he met a young woman called Agnes McCleod, herself from Scotland, and they married and started a family. He would go on to become a significant local figure there in Dunedin, but it must have broken his mother Elizabeth’s heart to lose her son and have him go to live on the other side of the world.

In 1849, an article appeared in the Weston-super-Mare Gazette describing Weston in some detail. At that time it made reference to the accommodation which had been on offer to guests much earlier in around 1824, (including at that time, Myrtle Cottage and Reeve’s Hotel which was Fry’s Hotel re-named under it’s new ownership) and described what Weston was now like in 1849.

13th October 1849 WsM Gazette – Correspondence making reference to Myrtle Cottage and The South Parade in around 1824 and how these had been the main options for accommodation.

According to the census of 1851, Richard FRY was still living in Myrtle Cottage and was still a ‘Lodging House Keeper‘. Richard’s children had both left home now though, his son Richard FRY having emigrated to new Zealand to become a well-known developer over there! Richard and his wife Elizabeth FRY had a ‘Housemaid’ living with them, named Sarah COOMBES and a gentleman guest, so it seems they were still taking an income from being Lodging House Keepers.

The Bath Hotel on South Parade with Myrtle Cottage to the left. Note the original balcony on The Bath Hotel and original frontage to the ground floor. Note also the pile of stone in the garden to the right, opposite Myrtle Cottage. This may have been a pile of stone carvings that Richard Fry is believed to have retrieved from the original Parish Church of St John’s after it was demolished in c1824.
1851 Census Showing Richard FRY and his wife Elizabeth FRY living at Myrtle Cottage, South Parade, Weston-super-Mare with their ‘Housemaid’ Sarah Coombes and a Gentleman ‘Visitor’.

According to the census, The Bath Hotel was now occupied and managed by a Mr George WOOKEY and later, it continued to be run by Mrs WOOKEY, his wife, for some years. Numerous advertisements appear to have been placed by her in the local news advertising her Hotel in the following years (You can read more about Bath Hotel HERE.) It seems that at some point prior to 1846, Richard must have sold the Bath Hotel property, because on electoral rolls and at the time of his death, it appears he only owned Myrtle Cottage and Number 5 South Parade in his later years.

Richard FRY and his wife continued to live just next door to Bath Hotel however, and also just next door from what had once been Fry’s Hotel, but was now to be known as The Royal Hotel until the very end of their days.

Richard’s Philanthropic Pursuits

Richard is known to have been one of the first Town Commissioners in Weston, and he was still acting as a Town Commissioner in fact, at the time of his death. He also contributed to the rebuilding of the Parish Church in Weston-super-Mare in 1824 and it seems that he had been very fond of the original and very old church building. Richard was also very active within his church community at St John’s. He was noted as a Rector/Warden in 1834, 1836 and 1846.

A print showing the original parish church of St John’s Weston-super-Mare which was demolished in 1824

Apparently, when the old church was taken down, Richard took a cart load of the original stone carvings and ornaments and they were left outside Myrtle Cottage in the garden area out the front of there. They are believed to have remained there for many years until after Richard Fry died and the cottage was demolished to make way for a bank. It seems he couldn’t bring himself to part with them.

Some features from the old church can still be seen in Weston as part of a house which was named Victoria Cottage, at 7 Park Villas. This property was owned by Richard’s son-in-law, Joseph JAMES, following its initial build, in about 1838. 

Victoria Cottage – 7 Park Villas
Stone features from the the old St John’s Parish Church (which was demolished in 1824) which were saved and built into the external wall perimeter of Victoria Cottage at 7 Park Villas.

Given that Richard Fry seems to have held on to old stone from the original parish church and also kept old newspapers and clippings that were important to him, it seems he was quite a sentimental man.

Richard FRY’s Death in 1855

Richard and Elizabeth FRY had a long life, and a stable marriage together. They went on to live out their days at Myrtle Cottage in South Parade. Both Richard and his wife Elizabeth died while still living in Myrtle Cottage in the mid-1850s.

Richard and Elizabeth grew old, and sadly, one day in 1850, when Elizabeth was 79, she had a terrible accident at Myrtle Cottage. It was reported in the Bath Chronicle Newspaper on 24th January 1850 reading:

“An accident, which it was much feared would be attended with fatal results, occurred on Wednesday evening, last week, to Mrs. Fry, Myrtle Cottage, South Parade, Weston-super-Mare. Mrs. Fry, who is considerably advanced in years, at the time the accident happened was in the act of passing down a short flight of stone steps leading to the back part of the premises, and it is surmised that her light having been extinguished by the wind, she unconsciously stepped over the side of the steps; falling forward, her head struck with violence against the ground, and her arm was dislocated. She was taken up insensible, and continued in that state for many hours.”

An original clipping from the Bath Chronicle on 24th January 1850

Being a few years older than her husband, Elizabeth FRY (nee MAIDEN) she must have grown frail, and sadly, she died before her husband, leaving his a widower, on 4th November 1852. The notice in the paper said that she had died after a lingering illness, at the grand age of 81.

According to transcriptions of burial records she was buried in the church yard of St John the Baptist Church, Weston-super-Mare on 10th November 1852.

Her husband Richard, followed her to the grave just three years later in 1855. He was 75 when he died and he was also buried at St John the Baptist Church, on 18th May 1855.

18th May 1855 Burial of Richard FRY at St John the Baptist Church, Weston-super-Mare

At the time of his death he had still been actively contributing to the local community in his role of Town Commissioner.

10th July 1852 – Notice in Weston-super-Mare Gazette, showing he was elected a town commissioner just three years before he died.
1855 – Notice showing Richard Fry was now deceased and his role in the group of Town Commissioners now needed to be filled.

After his death, his effects and the household contents of both Myrtle Cottage and the property at Number 5 South Parade were put up for Auction. A notice in the Weston Gazette from 22nd March 1856, reveals that Richard and his wife Elizabeth had enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle with a copious amount of beautiful furniture, china, glassware and other effects. I have been unable to locate a will and testament for Richard Fry but since his daughter was settled and provided for by her husband Joseph James, and his son had emigrated to begin a new life in New Zealand, it seems likely that everything was sold and the financial value of the good may have been divided between them. The notice reads:

Sale of a very useful lot of furniture, beds, bedding, &c., At Myrtle Cottage, and No. 5 South Parade, Weston-super-Mare. Mr. Norton has received instructions from the Executors of the late Mr Fry, to sell by auction, on the Premises, on Monday and Tuesday, the 31st day of March and 1st of April, 1856, all the valuable and useful Household Furniture, beds, bedding, china, glass, earthenware, and other effects, of the late Mr Fry. Comprising lofty mahogany four-post, half-tester, and tent bedsteads, with furniture; capital feather and millpuff beds, with bolster and pillows, blankets, and counterpanes, mattress, pailass, mahogany and painted wash stands, with ware, and toilet glass commodes, mahogany and painted chests of drawers, mahogany dining, loo, card, work and side tables, several sets of dining, drawing, and bedroom chairs, sofas and couches, easy chairs, mahogany and painted chiffonnieres pier and chimney glasses, chimney ornaments, drawing, parlour, and dining room carpets, with rugs, capital eight-day clock, floor-cloth, and a quantity of kitchen and culinary articles. The sale will commence at On o’Clock. N.B. The first day’s sale will take place at No. 5 South Parade.”

22nd March 1856 Weston Gazette notice of the auction of Richard Fry’s effects

Following Richard’s death, it seems that the ownership of Myrtle Cottage and The Bath Hotel too, somehow passed to a Mr King. By 1865, this Mr King placed the contents of the two properties up for sale by auction and a notice stated that he was leaving the properties. It read: “Large sale of furniture, fixtures and effects at The Bath Hotel and the House Adjoining Known as Myrtle Cottage, Weston-super-Mare….the property of Mr.King who is leaving the said premises” and a great deal of furniture and effects are listed totalling the contents of many sitting rooms and bedrooms.

12th August 1865 Auction advertised for the contents of The Bath Hotel and Myrtle Cottage.

A notice was also published showing that a new company was to be incorporated to issue shares in both The Royal Hotel and The Bath Hotel, and that The Bath Hotel was to become a ‘Club House’. Plans were made to dramatically extend The Royal Hotel and more than double its capacity for paying guests. By 1866, however, Myrtle Cottage was to be demolished.

Shortly after this notice, it seems that Myrtle Cottage was sadly razed to the ground in order to make way for the new and substantial Bank Building on the corner of South Parade, and by 1870, the new Bank stood next to the newly named, ‘Imperial Hotel’, and in the place where Myrtle Cottage had once stood, and been the Fry family home, for so many years.

South Parade c 1870 with the new bank building on the plot where Myrtle Cottage had once stood, and The Bath Hotel now renamed now as Imperial Hotel with it’s added frontage and the extension of the balcony over.
Long after Richard Fry’s death, the hotel, now named The Royal Hotel, was substantially extended from it’s original size as can be seen in this photograph dated probably from the 1960s, but the original frontage can still be seen today.

A Family Resemblance

Although Richard FRY’s time on this Earth is long passed and he died around 170 years ago now, quite unbelievably, my family and I think he looks the spitting image of my father, his GGG Grandson!

Richard FRY and his GGG Grandson, my own father Brian JAMES. He was born almost a hundred years after Richard FRY died, but still there is a striking family resemblance to this ‘Weston Worthy’.

I would love to hire a top hat and some period clothing to dress my Dad up to recreate this Weston Worthy portrait, but for now we can have a little fun with a crude attempt at digital manipulation! I personally think the resemblance is uncanny!

In case the resemblance wasn’t clear… I thought I’d try to draw on a top hat. Trying to get my Dad to sit at the right angle and with such a serious face was quite a challenge I can tell you!

Richard FRY’s Timeline

1780 – Richard FRY is born in Bisley, Gloucestershire. His father is William FRY, Mother, unclear. On 15th May 1780, his Baptism takes place in Bisley.

1804 – 18th February – Marriage to 29 year old Elizabeth MAIDEN at St Michael’s, Bristol. He is described as a “Servant” on his marriage certificate

1807 – Enters into arrangement with PARSLEY< COX & CAPELL to erect the first Hotel at Weston-super-Mare

1813 – Daughter Elizabeth is born on 26th April 1813 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Clifton on 16th May 1813. The family are at this time living in Sion Row, Clifton and he is described as a Lodging House Keeper. His father William FRY appears to be living with them and shortly after Richard’s daughter is born, his father dies on 11th October 1813.

1816 – Son Richard is born and baptised on 24th December 1816. The family are still living in Sion Row at this time and he is a Lodging House Keeper.

1818 – Richard and Elizabeth FRY take over the management of The Hotel at Weston-super-Mare and he advertises to say he has done this on 25th April 1818.

1821 – Richard and Elizabeth hold a big celebration at The Hotel for the Coronation of King George.

1822 – Richard re-fitted the Hotel and then advertised to let people know it had been updated.

1824 – Richard is involved in and contributes towards the re-building of the parish church St John’s. He would be very involved in his church community at St John’s and he would go on to be a church warden for several years.

1825 ish – Richard and Elizabeth take over the management of The Mason’s Arms on South Parade. It is later re-named as The Bath Hotel.

1832 – Richard and Elizabeth have by now moved in to Myrtle Cottage. Their daughter Elizabeth (now 20) marries Joseph James (27) and he comes to live with the Fry family at Myrtle Cottage.

1834 – Richard becomes a Grandfather when his daughter and son-in-law have their first child, a daughter, who they name Elizabeth. This year he is also the Church Warden at St John’s.

1836 – Joseph and Elizabeth James have a second child at Richard’s home, Myrtle Cottage. Richard is the People’s Warden at St John’s Church for a second time.

1839 – Richard’s daughter and her young family move out of Myrtle Cottage and go to live at Knightstone.

1841 – Richard is now living at Myrtle Cottage with his wife Elizabeth and their son Richard (22) who was now a Carpenter by trade.

1846 – Richard now owns numbers 5 and 8 South Parade, meaning that he owns Myrtle Cottage and also The Bath Hotel. Though The Bath Hotel is now leased to the Wookey family. He is also the People’s Warden at St John’s Church again this year.

1852 – Richard is elected as a Town Commissioner. Later this year, his wife Elizabeth died.

1855 – Richard Fry died and was buried in St John’s Graveyard.


Compiled from numerous public records and with the assistance of information very gratefully received from Ann Wolforth (a fellow descendant of Richard FRY) and members of the Weston-super-Mare Family History Society

You can also join in the hunt for my Mystery Ancestors, Richard FRY’s parents, HERE.

Please Let Me Know You’ve Visited

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave me a comment below, even just something brief. Family history hunting can be fascinating, but often no one else is interested except the person doing the research, so it’s always really lovely to find out when someone is!

8 thoughts on “Richard FRY 1780-1855 of Weston-super-Mare”

  1. Bisley, Gloucestershire Parish Registers re FRY 1701-1800

    William FRY = Mary MAYZEE 31 May 1716
    Thomas FRY = Sarah BROWNING 25 October 1733
    Nathaniel FRY = Mary PIERCE 13 September 1752

    Hannah FRY do Jeremiah 6 March 1702
    Sarah FRY do William 6 September 1718
    James FRY so Robert 15 November 1734
    Robert FRY so Robert 31 August 1736
    Elizabeth FRY do John 22 Feb 1740
    Lewis FRY so Catherine 9 March 1745
    Susannah FRY base child of Martha 25 January 1751
    Nathaniel FRY so Nathaniel 2 March 1755
    Polery ? FRY base child of Margaret 13 December 1758
    Bartholomew FRY so Nathaniel 3 June 1759
    Hannah FRY do Nathaniel 4 July 1761
    James FRY base child of Martha 31 July 1768
    Betty FRY base child of Betty 4 August 1771
    Sarah FRY base child of Martha 19 March 1773
    Hannah FRY do Nathaniel 1 December 1776
    Nathaniel FRY so Nathaniel 4 Oct 1778
    Richard FRY so William 15 May 1780

    Robert FRY so Robert 3 Oct 1701
    Jane FRY Wife of Robert 28 October 1701
    Thomas FRY so Robert 9 March 1702
    Abigail FRY of Robert 12 February 1705
    Jeremy FRY 21 October 1716
    Mary FRY wife of William 9 August 1716
    John FRY aged 4 so John 12 October 1728
    Jeremy FRY aged 46 31 October 1728
    Robert FRY aged 78 17 September 1737
    John FRY aged 64 8 December 1741
    Mary FRY aged 4 do John 17 February 1742
    Elizabeth FRY aged 8 do John 17 February 1742
    Mary FRY aged 47 27 March 1758
    John FRY aged 50 17 January 1759
    Nathaniel FRY aged 1¼ 25 September 1760
    John FRY aged 80 27 June 1766
    Nathaniel FRY aged 60 10 September 1775
    Elizabeth FRY base child of Elizabeth aged 6 12 August 1778
    Nathaniel FRY so Nathaniel aged 1½ 30 December 1780
    Mary FRY aged 74 23 January 1794

    Bisley, the parish where Richard FRY son of William FRY was baptised in 1780.

    Submitted by Lorna Gibson

    1. Thank you so much Lorna for this incredibly valuable research into the FRY family of Bisley. These parish records will undoubtedly be helpful, not only for me but for others researching the FRY family line!

  2. Well done. A great piece of research… and you will be pleased to know, reconciles well with our research.
    Richard Fry b 1780 (the “Top Hat gentleman”) is my (Shirley) Great Great Great Grandfather as I am a direct descendant of their Son Richard who came to Otago New Zealand.
    (I live in NZ). We have been doing considerable research as well, and have, we believe, Richard Fry b1780 ancestors back to a William Fry b1645 Bisley, Gloucestershire, England.
    The following is a “story” we have place in our database alongside William.

    “William FRY[5416] c. 1700 was the owner for the SWAN Hotel (pka BOAR & SWAN) in Bisley,, Gloucestershire, Eng, and in his will of 1725 he left it to his eldest two sons Thomas and William[5411]. Later another son Richard gifted, by way of his Will, 20Pounds to William[5411]’s son Richard[5408]. So the descendant line of the latter received an extra boost as well as being ½ owners of THE SWAN.
    And…the profession seems to have continued for 4 more generations because his Great Great Grandson Richard FRY[813] (the one with the TopHat) was also a “LodgingHouse keeper” and “Hotel Proprietor” including owning the first Hotel build in Weston-super-mare.

    The line ‘morphed’ at the next generation when Richard FRY[815] (son on Richard[813]) immigrated into NZ on one of the first ships to OTAGO, as a carpenter … and when on to Build “lodging” houses and “Otago” (& farm)

    Line=William(“THE SWAN”), William, Richard, William, Richard (“TOPHAT Gentleman”, ROYAL HOTEL), Richard (NZ Builder). {William & Richard must have been important family names, me thinks Ed}”

    Keep up the great research, S & S Sargent, NZ

    1. Hi Shirley, Thank you so much for sharing all this!! Wonderful! I was aware of the William Fry will about the Swan Hotel, but I haven’t been able to establish the line of descendent for Richard FRY (1780) as yet so this is great! I’m glad my own research matches up with yours. It was fascinating to find out I have distant cousins over in New Zealand! Perhaps one day we can meet 🙂 Thanks again, and do please share any other research you have about this family line! x

  3. Hi, I just read your account and thank you for the hours of hard work you must have put into this very detailed document. I have, just this week, discovered my own family’s links to The Royal Hotel through my great grandmother’s birth family, the Lane’s, formerly of Bristol then Bath. They were something of a dynasty of coaching inn proprietors and hoteliers with links to 3 other families in the same line of business. My 2 X great grandmother’s brother, Frederick Lane married Kitty Eliza Fry in 1852 at the parish church in Weston. She was daughter of Joanna Fry, wife of Robert Fry, but previously married to Thomas Rogers, father of Thomas Rogers who went on to own the Royal Hotel and oversaw the extensive refurbishments and extensions in the mid C19. You will see that Joanna lives with them there in the 1871 census, herself referred to as a retired ‘hotel keeper’. It’s hard to believe that your Frys and mine are not related, but as yet, I don’t know how – more research required. The Lane’s had interests in several inns/hotels that I know of, The York House in Bath, the White Lion, Bath, the Globe, Cathedral Yard, Exeter and the Half Moon, Exeter. William Lane, my 3 X great grandfather had a considerable coaching business, the largest in Bath in the pre-railway age. All this and more I have discovered over the last 10 years but the discovery that members of my wider family have history in my home town of Weston super Mare has been the icing on the cake. Kind regards, Richard Hopkins

    1. Hi Richard, Sorry for the delayed reply, but thank you so much for your message! I’m glad you liked the research and haha, yes probably far too many hours went into this! But I do find it all fascinating – it’s lovely to be able to put some flesh on the bones of an ancestor. It’s also particularly gratifying when someone finds your research and appreciates it! 🙂 I’m interested to read your note about the Lanes and particularly fascinated by the Frederick LANE and Kitty Eliza FRY marriage in 1852! It seems too great a coincidence to think that there was not a connection. My own ancestor, Richard FRY, was married to an Elizabeth, and their daughter was also called Elizabeth. So the name Kitty Eliza FRY seems so close? I think Kitty was a shortened version of Elizabeth wasn’t it? That’s also fascinating about the connection to Rogers. How wonderful that your home town is Weston and your ancestors were involved in its development. I have only visited once, but I hope to return after the pandemic. Perhaps when I do, you’d like to meet and swap notes 🙂 In the meantime, do let me know if you find out anymore and if you can establish a connection. Have you done your DNA on ancestry at all perhaps? Best wishes, Honey

  4. Hi Honey,
    Just discovered your reply – thank you so much for that. I’m grateful that there are a few landmark buildings left that I can link to my family in some way or another – many of the significant ones have fallen foul of the ‘wrecking ball’, even my old school in Weston, and that was only built in 1958. The last time I was in The Royal was a few years ago for a charity concert and the time before was for my mother’s wake. I had grown up in Weston thinking I was an outsider with both my parents being Welsh, or at least thinking they were, so it’s great to discover my roots in the town are almost as old as the town itself. Having said that I no longer live there; I left when I was 19 in 1973 but have being a regular visitor ever since with my sister continuing to live there. No, I haven’t done my DNA and I think that would be very interesting to do – the name Hopkins has it’s roots in Saxony so it would be good to know if my roots lay in that direction. And it would also be interesting to see if there is any ‘Scotch’ (my mother’s words not my mine) in the family as I discovered both a Wallace and a Gloag in my family history research, but neither apparently from Scotland. We’ll see!

    All the best


    1. It’s incredible that you didn’t know your ancestors originated in the town all that time. Like you, I love the fact that there are some significant landmarks and buildings still there in the town connected to my family’s history. I plan to go back to explore some more as soon as the pandemic is over 🙂

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