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 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.
Wednesday July 8th 1914 [Claverton Street]
Had a letter from home in the morning, with the news of Kathie Ellis’s engagement to Mr Hucks, the brother of Norah’s husband, and who has only been a widower for a year and has 7 children all under about 12 years of age. She is a brave woman. She writes most cheerfully so I suppose she is pleased.
It poured with rain early, but though showery it cleared up in time for me to meet Mrs Heath at Victoria at 11 and go with her to Peckham where we canvassed until 1.30. She returned to town and I had lunch then rode all the way to Hounslow by bus. It rained at first so I had to go inside – for an hour to Putney, then I had an hour outside.
I had to go to the Police, arrange about the Lorry etc – then back from Heston Hounslow to Victoria – and a bus home. Got in at 6.
Wrote letters until 7 – dressed, called in for John at no. eleven. We went by bus to Oxford Street where we hurriedly ate a sandwich then walked to the Kingsway Theatre and sat in the Stalls to see ‘The Great Adventure’. I had seen it before, but I was most anxious for John to do so, and he loved it. I think it a most gorgeous play, gloriously acted – Ainley is perfection. Miss Wish Wynne was out of it, but the girl who played her part was excellent.
We walked down the Strand in search of supper and went in to the Cabin – and had a most villainous meal. I could hardly touch mine – and plates etc were filthy and there were some most appalling looking foreign people in the place.
We just caught the 12 o’clock bus from Trafalgar Square. I was dead tired and so glad of bed.’
Kathie [Kathleen] Ellis (1882-1963) was one of the two daughters of Frank Ellis of Bishops Stortford, who, like Kate, was related by marriage to the Gilbey family – the firm that dominated the wine and spirit trade . Kate and Kathie had been close, although not bosom, friends since childhood. William Hucks’ first wife, Ethel, had died in spring 1913, aged only 34.
In her diary entry for 30 June 1913 Kate remarked ‘the death of Mrs Willie Hucks at the birth of her eighth child. And no wonder – she has only been married about 10 years and was never a giant of strength. Poor thing – done to death – and what will those seven little mites do without her?’
Well, the answer to that rhetorical question was that Kathie Ellis became their stepmother. Hucks was an ‘engineer and distiller’ – one of the Gilbey/Blyth circle.
By 1914 the buses on which Kate travelled would have been powered by engines – rather than horses. The tops, however, were still uncovered – hence her need to take shelter from the rain by travelling inside. As a rule, ever since she was young, Kate had much preferred to travel on the top – even at a time when it was not considered appropriate for a girl or young woman to do so.
‘The Great Adventure’ was a play by Arnold Bennett, which had opened at the Kingsway Theatre, directed by Granville Barker, in March 1913. The actor Henry Ainley was one of Kate’s favourites.
The Cabin restaurant where Kate had her ‘villainous’ meal this evening was on the north side of the Strand, just to the west of Wellington Street. It was one of small chain. The unusually large number of foreign tourists in London that summer was particularly remarked, not only by Kate but also by the press. Knowing Kate, who was the epitome of Englishness, by ‘appalling looking’ she probably meant loud and extravagantly dressed.