Frederick George Lesley Fry

Bread, jet engines and glass engraving

Frederick George Lesley Fry 1916-2007

The Fry family are long standing in the parish of Bremhill with the connection starting in 1875 when Lesley’s grandfather William Fry established the Bremhill village bakery. After his death in 1908 his son Ernest continued the business with his wife Florrie in the premises which shared a rickyard with the farm behind No12 Bremhill. In 1916 they had a son, Les, who was born at this address and was to have a big impact on the village during his life and become a well- loved local character. During early education at the village school Les became fascinated with his surroundings and this spawned his interest in local history. The local Hazeland area was a great attraction to him and other village youngsters. Whilst other children bathed and fished in the mill pool, Les would want to know how the mill’s turbine worked and how the river hatches operated, nearby, he would watch the steam trains from Studley bridge over the Calne to Chippenham railway. These elements of his early life created his natural interest in engineering.

At the age of 14 he left the village to be apprenticed as a marine engineer and boat builder in Marlow on the River Thames. In 1937 his career took more of a direction towards technology and he joined a company called High Duty Alloys, based in Slough, who, two years later, moved him to their Redditch premises where he worked with Sir Frank Whittle, the founding father of the jet turbine engine, and his team at Power Jets. Les helped develop the embryonic engine’s compressor which contributed to its success; the jet engine ultimately powering a prototype meteor aircraft which led to the company’s nationalisation.

In 1940 he married Rita, whom he met whilst in Redditch, and who accompanied him back to Bremhill when his father, Ernest, asked him to run the village bakery. Initially, Les, Rita and their two daughters Sue and Penny lived in the Bremhill Court where their third daughter was born. After living in a bungalow, which Les had built on the other side of the road from the bakery, Les and his family moved to the village Post Office and then on to his final property No. 31 which he bought for cash in a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’! The village postman at the time was Dennis Powney who recalled that in the 1950’s he would leave Calne Post Office at about 6am on his bicycle delivering first- of -all to Fishers Brook and on to then Lower Hanger arriving at the bakery at the lower end of Bremhill village soon after 7am. Les would say “Morning postman, kettle is on”, that was the sign to make the tea for them. In exchange for making the tea in a large teapot and taking a mug round to each of the workers, the postman got a mug of tea for himself. The workers did not stop, they would continue to knead the dough, always working flat out. Besides Les there were 4 others working there including George Stovall. Then it was on to deliver the rest of Bremhill village and return to Calne Post Office. When Les heard that Dennis was getting married in1958 he offered to make the wedding cake which according to the family was ‘absolutely splendid’ . After Lesley’s father died in 1972 he returned to his career roots and worked at Westinghouse in Chippenham as an engineer from 1972-5. Looking for something which would entertain his passion for creativity along with technology Les took up the craft of glass engraving. He transformed a darkened tiny room at the top of a narrow, steep staircase at No. 31 for his work place. In front of where he sat was a small table on which there was a black velvet pad and cushion beside an angle-poise lamp, the light of which showed up the marks he made on the glass against the black velvet. He engraved with a set of dentist’s drills and a very deft hand. The process involved annealing the glass prior to starting work as the pressure of engraving the surface and sometimes the inside of a bowl would lead to a crack running around the now ruined piece. On a shelf above his workstation was what he termed ‘the glass graveyard’. A sad testament to a few bowls and glasses which had half- finished engraved images on them accompanied by an unwanted horizontal crack running around or through them. Sometimes this happened after many hours work which is why Les refused to work on anything but high- quality glass without imperfections. His talent and standard of workmanship was recognised by granting him membership of the Guild of Glass Engravers.

One of his many other talents was wine making, often gallons at a time. A pastime which saw many -fruit filled demijohn bottles lined up with contents fermenting in various stages of completion in his conservatory at the back of his cottage. When Les participated in Art and craft shows, which were sometimes held in the local church of St Martin’s, the preview night to the exhibition was a very liquid affair as he would donate two and a half gallons of his wine as refreshments. On one exhibition opening night supporting church funds a group of somewhat red- faced local farmers were seated, chatting away, in pews by the belfry having sampled many glasses of Les’s potent brew. When the exhibition organiser, local artist John Harris, approached them and asked if they were enjoying the exhibition, one well known individual slurred out “What exhibition!”

Les was a man who had an opinion on most things, an observer of life and had many stories to tell. He was a frequent visitor to the ‘Dumb Post Inn’ and as well his own special glass pot which had a chip on the handle. He also had his own seat beside the door opposite the bar. One of his favourite stories was about his onetime neighbour, Joe Summers. He worked for the nearby Bowood Estate and was employed as a drainage specialist who had the uncanny knack of unblocking drains even if they were unsighted in the middle of a field. Joe also liked the Dumb Post and its beer, maybe drinking too many pints on occasions. That was no problem as the Landlord used to help him into his trap and the donkey would take him the mile home. Les would help get Joe out of the trap and then put it and the donkey away, all in good humour. Discussions at the pub would vary considerably as Les had a wide spectrum of interests ranging from wildlife and trees to sausages and the taking of snuff. On the topic of trees, one of his favourite expressions was “When you look at a tree, you see God…majestic and wonderful”. He took snuff twice a day and argued that is why he never had a cold. Perhaps his most well- known quip in the pub was to raise his glass after having it filled and shouting “Success to temperance!” He was also a member of the British Sausage Appreciation Society and could speak with conviction as he would frequently make them at home often decrying the quality of meat from Somerset and Dorset in favour of pork from Wiltshire. It was his love of the community coupled with an analytical mind that made him a successful family man, engineer, baker, food and wine maker, glass engraver,long -time member of the PCC and President of the Calne Chamber of Commerce. He was also not afraid to make his opinions heard if he disagreed with something, often writing to the local and national press to make his voice heard. When Rita, his wife of 58 years died at the age of 81 Les continued to live in the village for a while and then moved to Marden Court in Calne for 5 and a half years before passing away in Great Western Hospital on March 7th 2007.

His legacies are visible to this day, namely, as a passionate supporter of the church, he wrote a history of St. Martins church and spent hours cleaning and filling in the lettering with black paint of the Reverend Bowles poems carved into the sides of notable gravestones in the churchyard, a labour of love which has helped to preserve them. In the right- hand porch window there is a magnificent glass engraving which was a result of a collaboration between Les and the renowned artist and his friend Norman Neasom, RWS from Redditch who did the drawings based on ‘the seasons’ for Les to engrave. Another lasting memorial created from one of the fund- raising ideas from Les is the spectacle of a host of daffodils which line either side of Dark Lane on the approach to Bremhill from the west which greets everyone in the Spring.

Thanks to Dick Leonard for the Eulogy delivered at the funeral of Les in St. Martins Church, Bremhill