July 23, 2013
Since starting genealogical research, it had been my ambition not to be an armchair genealogist, but to see through the eyes of my forebears by visiting the places where they had lived. I decided thus to organise a trip to Norfolk and to spend some time in the small seaside town of Wells-Next-The-Sea where my ancestor John Fryer, who was Master of the Bounty during the infamous mutiny had been born, where he had made a family and a career and where his life ended almost two centuries ago. My journey in search of John Fryer began in Kings Lynn the historical town south of The Wash.
A meeting with Keith Leesmith, Secretary of the Wells Historical Group was arranged for 10am outside Wells-Next-The-Sea Harbour Office. Mr Leesmith kindly gave me a guided tour of the town, focusing on places of interest in relation to John Fryer and the Bounty. The plaque commemorating John Fryer and his brother in law Robert Tinkler on Liars Corner was the first stop.
We then proceeded along Freeman Street to an area where the Bounty was moored albeit in a children’s play area! The ship armed with canons and a telescope was not only a source of enjoyment, but also highlighted the fact that the local population are proud of their heritage and their association with an important part of British maritime history. Further on to the corner of Freeman Street and Blackhorse Yard and to the house that was once the home of John Fryer. The house was demolished in the 1960’s. Mr Leesmith and I were able to determine that a photograph of unknown origin acquired by Mr Leesmith was indeed at the site in which we were standing.
The walk continued up Blackhorse Yard and then left into Theatre Road. I noted at this point, a familiarity with the road name The Glebe. Having left this location we proceeded toward what is known as Gamble Square. This location was the site of John Fryer’s home up until his death in 1817. A number of cottages owned by Fryer existed on the site and following Fryers death his daughter Mary Ann, together with her husband William Gamble occupied the house.
Alan Lethanthal suggested in an article that the couple ran a school there and this is supported to some extent by census records denoting their respective professions as Schoolmistress and Schoolmaster. Keith and I then went for a coffee and discussed various aspects of the Fryer story, as well as other topics of interest. The tour then continued on up Staithe Street and then left and on down into High Street walking South in the direction of St Nicholas Church. Approximately half way down and on the left had side is School Alley which so aptly named abuts the School. The alleyway itself exits onto Polka Road. A Plaque is present on the wall of the school, as I was informed that the original School had had an extension built onto it. Unfortunately due to the gates being locked it was not possible to view the plaque.
One of the benefits of the field trip was the connections formed with individuals associated with the town. Keith Leesmith was kind enough to introduce me to Mr Graham Barker who lives in Church House, the property of which is neighboured by St Nicholas Church itself. Upon entering Mr Barkers residence it became evident that he had a considerable interest and knowledge in relation to Lord Nelson. Mr Barker also showed me a copy of the book John Fryer of the Bounty written by his daughter Mary Ann (I have a copy of this book) and also the much sought after Narrative of the Bounty Launch published in 1934. I was also shown a family tree diagram which related to Fryer’s lineage and I was kindly allowed to take a photographic copy.
Following the tour of the town, I met with Mrs Helena Arguile, who had recently been appointed, Warden of St Nicholas Church. Mrs Arguile kindly made available to me numerous documents relating to Fryer including a copy of the 1793 Wells Census (One of the earliest surviving Census in the whole of Great Britain) other documents included marriage records and correspondence from an individual in the United States whom was writing a biography on the Bounty. All of the documents were photographed for later examination and study. There was much anticipation that there may be found in the churches possession, a map of the cemetery indicating the location and occupants of graves, Unfortunately this was not the case, and as I have already mentioned, the dilapidated condition of the cemetery and the absence of any diagrammatic burial record made the task of identifying graves a challenging one.
John Fryer’s original gravestone was viewed and studied in depth. A copy of a photograph taken circa 1920 was obtained from the meeting with Clergyman Helena Arguile which shows the headstone in its upright position. This it turns out was a crucial piece of evidence in identifying the location of John Fryer’s grave and its position on the southern side of the church. Indeed according to an article received from Mr Alan Lethanthal, the headstone had not initially been identified as that of John Fryer, in so much as the headstone itself was in a face down condition. Upon turning the headstone over and removing a layer of mud, the headstone was indeed identified as that of John Fryer, his first wife Ann Sporne who died in 1784 and an infant child. The headstone has now been placed in the Southern entrance to the church, together with a portrait and a chronology of Fryer’s career.
The headstone was then moved to the entrance on the southern side of he church to afford it some measure of protection. A display relating to John Fryer is also to be found alongside the headstone itself. On the second day of the field trip, upon arrival in Wells-Next-The-Sea a preliminary search of St Nicholas church graveyard was undertaken in order identify any graves of interest to the research. Unfortunately the dilapidated condition of he cemetery and the erosion of numerous headstones, made identification difficult and in some instances impossible. A more detailed study of the cemetery, including the cemetery extension to the East of the church was undertaken, this was found to be in a moderately better condition than the congressional cemetery, although some headstones were beyond legibility. No headstones were found that were of direct interest to the line of research, however a headstone was found with the surname BELL and this was a surname identified during earlier research into John Fryer, in so much as BELL was the maiden surname of his second wife Mary.