Sunday, 15 January 2017

Small Fry

How are you getting on with the new plastic £5 notes? When my word for the year is Hope, I find it vaguely depressing that on the reverse Winston Churchill is offering me nothing but "blood, sweat toil and tears." I am rather fond of the older note, bearing the portrait of Elizabeth Fry, and the picture of her working with the prisoners
Born Elizabeth Gurney, to a Quaker family, she grew up in Norfolk. Her mother [part of the Barclay's Bank family] died whilst she was quite young and she helped care for her siblings. She had a strong faith, and a love of needlework. [Norfolk, Nonconformist, Needlewoman...definitely one of my heroines] Elizabeth married another Quaker, Joseph Fry [from the chocolate family] and moved to London, where they had 11 children.
She is perhaps best known for her sterling work in penal reform, and especially care for women prisoners. She taught the women incarcerated in Newgate to read, write, do basic maths, and to sew. Thus they were able to find gainful employment on their release. She arranged special bags [containing fabric pieces, needles and threads] to be given to those facing Transportation to Australia. On the long voyage, the women could make themselves a patchwork quilt. On arrival the quilt could keep them warm, be sold to buy food, or used as a proof of their skills so they could obtain work in the colonies. In 1840 she opened a Training School for nurses- Florence Nightingale took a team of "Fry's Nurses" out to the Crimea. She seems to have spent her entire life in going about doing good. 
I found some extracts from her journal - one is a simple prayer appropriate for anyone [like me] with an apparently unending to-do list
O Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone
The other quotation seems particularly apt for these days when people refer to "post-truth" and nobody seems quite sure whether those in power are 'being economical' with their words
I give myself this advice - Do not fear truth, never give up the search for it - and let me take courage and try from the bottom of my heart to do that which I believe truth dictates
For number of years, I have kept a folded up fiver in the back of my diary, as "emergency cash" in case I ever find myself in need of a little cash when I am out supply teaching. This tiny packet has been my 'Small Fry'. It's never been needed, but I have taken it out now, to make sure it is spent, before these notes become obsolete.  But Elizabeth wasn't small Fry, I think she was truly great. 


  1. Good morning, that was a lovely piece about Elizabeth Fry. She has always been one of my heroines ever since I was in "Fry House" at my secondary school 56 years ago. We had four houses, Fry, Curie, Keller and Bronte. It was an all girls' school hence the strong female role-models selected for house names. One of the criteria to belonging to a "house" was to learn about the life of the namesake, ever since Elizabeth Fry has been one of my life's heroines. Thank you for quoting two of her prayers, I did not know these, and you have quite literally made my day. Thankyou Sue H.

  2. Apparently there were four notes printed with a picture of Jane Austen, which could be very valuable. I keep looking....!

  3. Susan, what great names for the houses at your school. Sadly there doesn't seem to be the same emphasis on good role models in many schools now. Elizabeth, check out the BBC website. I believe 3 of the 4 have now been found, but there's one still out there!

  4. How did these great women do it? I am lost in the daily mire most days, with no thought of the big picture. I am amazed at the accomplishments of a woman with 11 children in days when women were not respected. Goodness. Jo is very fond of his new fiver. It may just manage to escape the hole-burning in his pocket that all other cash involves!


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