Monthly Archives: February 2014

John Firth Fryer 1840-1914

John Firth Fryer

Today (28th February) marks the 100th anniversary of the death of John Firth Fryer, Bootham’s headmaster between 1875 and 1899. He started as a pupil at the school in 1854, and apart from a year at the Flounders Institute at Ackworth training to become a teacher, he remained at the school until his retirement in 1899. During his headship, he oversaw changes including teaching becoming departmentalised, permission being granted by the committee for the hire of a piano for practice during leisure time (which rapidly became the purchase of two pianos, hymn singing on Sunday evenings and the introduction of concerts), and the end of earlier customs such as no plates at breakfast or tea. Unfortunately his headship finished with the fire in 1899 which destroyed much of the school.

He seems to have been a keen footballer for a while, according to his obituary (in ‘Bootham’ magazine, May 1914): “When, however, the game [football] was sanctioned and John Ford himself gave the initial kick…in September 1862, no one proved a more enthusiastic player than J. F. Fryer, until an unlucky kick under the knee temporarily incapacitated him and made it undesirable for him to keep it on.”

His poem about football, ‘A Lay of Modern York’ was reprinted with his obituary in 1914, and its ending is particularly poignant considering what would follow later in 1914. Here are the last two verses:

“Thus onward speeds the conflict,

With various fortune blest;

First one side – then the other –

The poor ball gets no rest!

First to left and then to right,

Now here, now there, the ball is sped.

Anon one side the victory sees

An then its hopes are all but fled.

In short, so various is the scene

In this so happy, playful strife

As not remiss to represent

The strange vicissitudes of life.

 

Would that all strife as harmless were as this,

Would that all sanguinary war would cease,

All kingdoms of the happy earth rejoice

Beneath the reign of universal Peace.

The man of war his sword to ploughshare beat,

His deadly spear to pruning hook would turn;

Nations in battle fierce no more would meet,

No more with rage against each other burn;

And thus no longer war, but Peace delight to learn.”

J. F. Fryer

4th November 1862, 20, Bootham, York

James Backhouse and West Bank Park

It’s really good to hear about the West Bank Park Heritage Project (http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/NEWS/11029965.Heritage_centre_and_community_cafe_plan_for_York_park/?ref=rss), particularly as the Backhouse family had Bootham connections. The James Backhouse who first set up the nursery sent his son, also called James Backhouse, to York Friends Boys School in Lawrence Street between 1834 and 1841 (the school in Lawrence Street moved to Bootham in 1846, and later became known as Bootham School). The younger James Backhouse sent his sons, James and William, to Bootham (James between 1874 and 1878, and William between 1876 and 1880).

James Backhouse

 

Photograph: James Backhouse, born 1825, at York Friends Boys School 1834-41.

 

The youngest James Backhouse (grandson of the first James Backhouse) wrote an obituary for his father, James Backhouse (son of the first James Backhouse) in ‘Bootham’ magazine in May 1903, and it talks about everything from York’s first station to an underground cavern! Here are some extracts…

“On the introduction of a railway into York in 1839 the business premises were transferred to Fishergate, and later still to their present position at Holgate, one mile away. The original Passenger Station building, which may be spoken of as little more than a wooden shed, outside the City walls, was, in a very brief time rebuilt within the walls upon the old garden site. This new erection, when in the course of time a further new and enlarged station was required, became the North Eastern Railway offices. It is said that when the first station was opened, one porter attended to all the luggage and issued all the tickets. Today about 450 officials and porters are required to cope with the traffic of the seven different railway companies which run their trains to York.”

“About 1859 the careful observations made during his previous botanical excursions bore fruit in another way. He constructed in the Nurseries his well-known imitation Mountain Tarn and surrounding crags, on purpose to shew how Alpine plants might be artificially cultivated. His success in the cultivation of these plants was largely due to a scientific knowledge of soil requirements and other local conditions necessary to the growth of each species. As pioneer of a new departure in Horticulture the fame of his work soon spread, and hundreds visited York to witness the novel sight of this Alpine model, correct in every detail, and no mere accumulation of material.”

“Another monument to his memory at York Nurseries is an underground cavern, so arranged and artificially lighted that filmy ferns, which are by no means easy subjects to deal with, flourish there in great perfection; though denizens of various parts of the globe.”

Good luck to the West Bank Park Heritage Project!

  1. James Backhouse’s obituary is contained in ‘Bootham’ magazine, Vol I, p280-284.
  2. The photograph is taken from an album presented in Silvanus Thompson in 1874, held in Bootham School Archives.