Recorded in several spelling forms including: Fry, Frye, Fray, Free, the patronymic Frays, this interesting medieval English surname has two possible sources. The first is as a nickname from the pre 7th Century word 'freo' meaning "free born" or not a serf, and not belonging to a lord. This version was originally confined mainly to the south and southwest of England. The second origin is from another nickname, this time for a small person from the word 'fry' meaning offspring or small person. The surname is first recorded in the late 12th Century (see below), whilst early recordings include: Thomas le Frye in the Hundred Rolls of Wiltshire for the year 1273, and Walter le Free in the same Wiltshire rolls odf the same year. Later examples taken from surviving early church registers include: Anne Frayes who married William Fowle at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, on October 20th 1557, and David Fry, who married Judith Berry at St. Dunstan's in the East, Stepney, on October 28th 1589. Amongst the interesting name bearers was Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845). She became a Quaker minister at the age of 29, and thereafter was tireless in her work as a prison reformer, also inducing the government to regulate the transportation of criminals to Australia. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of William Frie. This was dated 1195, in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Sussex, during the reign of Richard 1st of England known as 'The Lionheart', 1189-1199. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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