Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 7 July 1914

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.

KateAs 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 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.

Kate is back in Claverton Street, after a weekend in Worthing. Although she is a keen reader of newspapers, by the end of the first week of July she has made no comment on the events in Sarajevo.

‘Tuesday July 7th 1914

Writing. John in at 11.30 and out together at 1 and to Slaters for lunch. I can’t keep him out so it doesn’t seem any use trying. He is as absolutely devoted as ever – seems to care for nothing or nobody but me – it’s extraordinary and had now been going on eleven years with undiminished fervour. Poor dear I wish I could make him happy.

After lunch we proceeded to get to Isleworth but quite lost ourselves as we went by train from Victoria to Spring Grove then walked a long way to the Main Road and then had to take a bus. Then I had to visit the Police about the meeting and get a lorry which took about 2 hours and found Mr Rix had got the wrong information – that there is no Green but the meeting must be held in the Upper Square and the thousand hand bills will have to be altered. John says that organising is far harder work than the Stage.

Back by train to Hammersmith – tube to Knightsbridge and to the office at 4.45. ..I left with John at 6 o’clock.

We rushed home and changed, then a bus to Charing Cross, a sandwich and to the Criterion Theatre to see ‘A Scrap of Paper’. We were both bored, it wan’t particularly interesting as a revival – not played well and the play is rotten. Nancy Price was poor. I feel sure I saw Mrs Kendal in it. I seemed to remember how she did certain bits, with what art – she was wonderful. I think we were both tired and aching for a meal.

We went to the Corner House and had supper and just caught the last Pimlico bus. In at 12.15. John had Dress Circle seats given him – so we were very luxuriously treated. I was tired by the end of things.’

The beauty of Kate’s diary – from the point of view of studying the work of a suffrage organiser  –  is that it doesn’t cover up all the tediousness involved in running a ‘Votes for Women’ campaign. Kate does not gloss over the mishaps that – like here at Isleworth- will require someone to alter by hand a 1000 printed handbills. Amongst the collection of ephemera that she left I have similar flyers – with additions or alterations made in her own handwriting. This is not the view of the suffrage campaign that you will glean from reading published accounts – such as in the suffrage newspapers. This is real life. See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.

‘A Scrap of Paper’ , a ‘comic drama’ adapted from a French play by the Victorian playwright John Palgrave Simpson, had first been staged in 1861. Mrs (Madge) Kendal, a renowned Victorian actress and theatre manager, had indeed,  back in the 1880s/90s, played in ‘A Scrap of Paper’ and Kate was certainly correct in remembering having seen such a production.

The Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street. The Criterion Theatre is just out of view in the left of the photo. This picture dates from many years after Kate's July 1914 visit - but gives us an orientation on her world

The Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street. The Criterion Theatre is just out of view in the left of the photo. This picture dates from many years after Kate’s July 1914 visit – but gives us an orientation on her world

‘Slaters’ and the ‘Corner House’ were both chains of restaurants for diners of modest means. The Corner House restaurants were part of the chain run by Lyons that opened in 1909. It was doubtless in the one in Coventry Street, a quick dash across the road from the Criterion Theatre, that Kate and John had for their longed-for supper this evening.



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