On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.
As a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.
Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John has a room along Claverton Street, at number 11.
‘Thursday July 9th 1914
Hard at writing from 10 to 1. John came in and we went out together to lunch at Victoria. Then I went off to Hounslow by train and canvassed all up and down both sides of the High Street and all over the place, and at 6 o’clock at Parke Davis Dye works as the people came out.
Then a train back to Hounslow and train to Victoria and bus. In at 7.30. J. was watching at his window and saw me get out of the bus and came in with me and waited until 9 – when he was very good and went off and got supper by himself. I was so dead beat I felt I could not turn out again so ate some bread and cheese and fell into bed.’
Kate’s canvassing in Hounslow was for the purpose of drumming up attendance of a ‘Votes for Women’ meeting she is to hold tomorrow in the Broadway.
As WSPU militancy became even more intense the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage held to its principle of campaigning in a democratic manner. This may now be thought boring – failing to provide news fodder for the press then and for bloggers now – but it was non-militant political lobbying that in the end won women the vote.
In the few days previous to 9 July 1914 WSPU supporters had, besides continuing with their campaign of arson, concentrated their attention increasingly on the King and the Church. A portrait of the King by Sir John Lavery had been damaged in the Royal Scottish Academy and a few days earlier when the King had visited Nottingham a well-known suffragette had been arrested carrying a suitcase containing bomb-making equipment. On 1 July there had been a disturbance during the enthronement of the new Bishop of Bristol and on 5 July Mrs Dacre Fox had interrupted the Bishop of London during a Westminster Abbey service – asking him to prevent forcible feeding. She was a prisoner on the run, who had been released from prison under the Cat and Mouse Act, and was promptly re-arrested outside the Abbey.
Kate must surely have a taken a bus to the Parke Davis dye works, which was quite a way down the Staines Road. [The site at 581 Staines Road, long ago rebuilt by Parke Davis, is now used by the Home Office as an immigration centre.] Kate was well used to standing at factory gates handing out handbills – hoping to entice the workers to her meetings. We shall see tomorrow how successful her canvass had been.