Teesdale dramatist and campaigner dies after lengthy battle against cancer

The Advertiser Series: SADLY MISSED: Val Fryer, who founded Bowes Drama Group. SADLY MISSED: Val Fryer, who founded Bowes Drama Group.

THE well-known Teesdale dramatist and campaigner Val Fryer died at her home in Gilmonby last week, after a two-and-a-half year battle against cancer.

Born in Bingley, West Yorkshire, she became the first in her family to go to university, reading German at Reading and Freiburg-im-Breisgau and went on to teach languages and history.

Mrs Fryer moved with her family to Teesdale in 1978, and immediately took an active role in many different community and charity projects.

Bowes had suffered for many years with an increasingly busy A66 running directly through the village, and she fought tirelessly in the campaign to force the then Transport Minister, Norman Fowler, to authorise a bypass.

In 1987, Mrs Fryer wrote a pageant to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Bowes Castle.

It was performed there by more than 40 residents, aged eight to 80 and was seen by more than 1,500 people over the two days of the celebrations.

As a result of its success, Mrs Fryer formed Bowes Drama Group, writing and producing a number of pantomimes and plays that were performed in the village hall and around the dale.

The Dickens in Teesdale group was formed by her and husband Michael in 1987 to bring a wider awareness of the famous author’s links with the dale.

The events they organised took place over three years, and especially focused on Dotheboys Hall in Bowes, where Charles Dickens had visited schoolmaster William Shaw in 1838, while researching Nicholas Nickleby.

Ancestors of Dickens and Shaw met for the first time in 150 years and healed the ancient rift between their families.

More than 300 tradespeople and residents were also in Victorian costume for a Christmas shopping week in Barnard Castle as part of the celebrations.

Despite her illness, last year Mr and Mrs Fryer were guests at the Dickens 200 anniversary service at Westminster Abbey and met the Queen at a champagne reception at Buckingham Palace a week later.

They were heartened to hear Her Majesty speak so fondly of Teesdale. On their 45th wedding anniversary last August, the couple renewed their wedding vows at Bingley Parish Church, where they were married.

Mrs Fryer, who died aged 70, is survived by husband, Michael; four children, Verity, Benedict, Barnaby and Joel; and 10 grandchildren, Elysia, Indie, Saffia, Ola, Ira, Melody, Obadiah, Theodore, Rosa and Otto.

Her funeral will take place at St Giles, Bowes, on Friday, April 5, at noon.

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