It was in this house, 65 Commercial Road, East Dereham, that on Thursday 16 March 1911 Kate Frye embarked on her career as an organizer for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage
In 1911 this was the home of Mrs Alice West, a widow, who lived here with her young daughter, Hilda, and was able to accommodate at least two paying guests. Over the next couple of years Kate was to be a frequent lodger, describing the rooms on that first night as ‘So nice – comfortable and so clean and a fire in my room to unpack by.’
I was paying a flying visit to Norfolk (to view ‘Houghton Revisited’, the once-in-a-lifetime rehang of Walpole’s pictures at Houghton Hall) and took the opportunity to follow Kate Frye around Dereham, Fakenham and Burnham Market. These were all places in which, between 1911 and 1913, she worked hard to spread the suffrage message.
During the several months that she spent, on and off, in Dereham, there were occasions when it was not possible for her to stay with Mrs West and she then took up residence around the corner from Commercial Road – at 63 Norwich Street, the home of another widow, Mrs Martha Cox. Kate gives the impression that this house was in a poorer condition and caused Mrs Cox, who was most well-meaning and attentive, a great deal of hard work to keep clean and in good order.
For instance, from Kate’s diary: ‘9 May 1912 I am really comfortable here, Mrs Cox is ever so good, too good and I hate to think of her work all day long in this rotten old house.’ I, therefore, wasn’t much surprised, as we walked down Norwich Street, to find that Mrs Cox’s house has been demolished.
On the day that Kate commented on Mrs Cox’s ‘rotten old house’, this is where she had spent the afternoon – in the apartment above this bank – then the London and Provincial. Here lived the most reliable suffrage sympathisers that Kate encountered in Dereham – the family of the bank manager, Charles Cory. And, on that afternoon – 9 May 1912 – it was in their drawing room that Kate succeeded in setting up the Dereham branch of the New Constitutional Society. The Corys’ daughter, Violet, was honorary secretary. When compiling The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide I had wondered why this small Norfolk market town was one of the few places to boast a branch of the NCS.. Kate’s diary provides the answer. It was to Dereham that she was sent and so it was here that she went to work. Why, out of the whole of England, Dereham was selected by the NCS still remains a mystery.
A year earlier, less than a week after arriving in Dereham, Kate organised her first public ‘Votes for Women’ meeting. It was held in Dereham’s 18th-century Assembly Rooms. On 22 March 1911 Kate wrote in her diary: ‘I was over at the hall at 7. We opened the doors at 7.20 and in very little time the place was full. I had to stand at the door and kept the youths and maidens out till the police officer arrived and then went up to sell Literature.
Here is the door outside which Kate stood that evening in March 1911.
Having formalised the presence of the NCS in Dereham by setting up its branch, Kate lost no time in arranging another public meeting. The evening of Wednesday 12 June 1912 turned out to be one of the most personally exciting she ever enjoyed – she certainly kept evidence of it and occasionally referred to it in diary entries many years later.
It was only by visiting the Assembly Rooms that I made proper sense of Kate’s description. Of that evening she remarks that ‘Miss Cory sold tickets downstairs and I was the doorkeeper and spoke to everyone coming in.’ I now realise that the main hall is upstairs – behind the windows in the first floor in this photograph. (A slimming club was using the hall when I visited and, in the circumstances, I didn’t like to take a photograph of the interior!). That evening Kate was probably stationed upstairs – welcoming the audience and waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the main speaker, the Rev Hugh Chapman. She had already met him at the station and taken him to the King’s Head in Norwich Street, where he was to stay, and had been swept off her feet (as she had in the past) by the apparent fervour of his greeting.
Chapman eventually arrived – brought along from the King’s Head by a fellow clergyman.. The two were friends – the Rev Harold Davidson, rector of nearby Stiffkey, was to become notorious in later years when, after having been defrocked, he met his death at Skegness when a lion turned on him while he was performing as ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’. It would appear that Kate could spot a wrong ‘un, describing Davidson, after this one brief meeting, as ‘a frivolous clergyman with a frivolous wife and a beyond-all whopping frivolous young lady – destined for the stage – the whole party seemed quite mad.’ Clearly an apt summation. Anyway that was just the beginning of what was to be for Kate a memorable evening in Dereham.
A month previously – in May 1912 – Kate had lived for a few weeks in Fakenham, campaigning for the NCS at a by-election. She stayed in digs at 1 Carlton Villas, Queen’s Road – an address that I wasn’t able to identify with certainty when I visited. The 1911 census is not very helpful – the Queen’s Road enumerator having failed to give addresses on the cover of the forms in his area.
But if I don’t know exactly where in Queen’s Road she stayed, I do know that she must have passed this jeweller’s shop – still here a hundred years later – as she walked to and from the centre of Fakenham each day.
The shop’s owner told me that the clock, too, has been there all that time -the only difference being that it now runs on a battery.
On Sunday 19 May 1912, while lodging at Carlton Villas, Kate wrote in her diary ‘Had a great scramble to get to Church by 11 o’clock but I did it. I always think Suffragettes look such heathens if no one goes. I was the only representative. ‘
A few days earlier Kate had made a recce visit to Burnham Market – finding it ‘Such a quaint pretty spot’. She did all the things that a good organiser should do – identifying a room available for hire, the name of the local policeman, the name of likely supporters etc. These included Mr Hammill, the local doctor, who lived in this lovely house, and whom she described as ‘political’.
Burnham House is just over the way from the Hoste Arms, where we stayed the night – most comfortably.
And It was in the Hoste Arms- on 23 May 1912 that Kate enjoyed a brief flirtation with a couple of Irish politicians – anti-Home Rulers. You can read more of this in a previous post – Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Wrestles With North Norfolk, 1912 and much more about Kate Frye in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford. For a full description of the book click here Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive. ISBN 978 1903427 75 0 £14.99. Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – email@example.com or from all good bookshops.
Armed with Campaigning for the Vote you, too, can follow in Kate’s footsteps – not only in Norfolk, but also in London, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
#1 by Mel Barrett on April 24, 2015 - 5:13 pm
65 Commercial Road has been my home for quite some time, I will be searching for hidden history now! The fireplaces are blocked up in the upstairs bedrooms but the downstairs fireplaces are in tact and still have the original quarry tiles in place. When we originally bought the house we were not aware of its rich history, thank you for sharing your research.
#2 by womanandhersphere on April 25, 2015 - 11:16 am
Delighted to hear from you. Last summer I gave a talk on Kate Frye’s suffrage experiences in Dereham to the local history society – and you can read more about Kate’s life as a lodger at 65 Commercial Road in ‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – which you can buy either from me (email me) or from the publisher – http://www.francisboutle.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=102&osCsid=0df837659aa5c8640ecabc8db0b16d1c.