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.
Monday July 13th 1914
Up late. Letters all the morning. John came in and sat with me. Lunch together at Slaters, then I met Mrs Chapman and we went together to Peckham and canvassed. We had tea together and I saw her off about 5.30.
Then I wandered about and John met me at the corner of Rye Lane at 6. He had not had tea so I went with him to have some – then we strolled on the Rye and to the Triangle at 7.30. Had to take the Chair and, as Miss Feddon had not turned up at 8.15, I went on as long as I could as Miss D ‘Oyly was the only other speaker.
But Miss Feddon arrived and held the crowd for a long time. I had not wanted to speak before John, but as I had to I did it. He said he was surprised how well I did it – no hesitating and he heard one man in the crowd say ‘That’s the one I like to hear, she comes straight to the point.’
Miss D’Oyly went off early but Miss Feddon returned with us and we 3 went into a restaurant at Victoria and had some supper than we walked back and we saw her to Chichester Street. She is a nice woman but overwrought with militancy. The things that are going on are too awful, it is enough to wring anyone’s heart and mind.
I had felt really ill in the morning and feared a collapse, but I started on my white Liver Tabloids and they seemed to act by the evening. I felt decidedly better Not in until 12 o’clock.
Perhaps Kate and John met at this corner – where Hanover Park meets Rye Lane? Probably not, but Williamsons looks a handy place to have some tea here. (Image courtesy of Transpontine website)
[Constance] Marguerite Fedden (1879-1962) came from a wealthy Bristol family and at this time was principal of a College of Housecraft and Domestic Science, 4 Chichester Street, Pimlico. During the First World War she worked as a VAD nurse at Salonika. From Kate’s remarks she clearly was very troubled by the pitch of aggression that had now been reached in the struggle between the militant suffragettes – the WSPU – and the government.
A few days previously Mrs Pankhurst had yet again been arrested and had immediately undergone a hunger and thirst strike. She was then released on a four-day licence, under the terms of the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. She was soon to be rearrested.
Other leading members of the WSPU, such as Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney and Norah Dacre Fox, were also under constant threat of rearrest after failing to comply with the terms of their licence. In May and June the number of arson and bomb attacks had escalated throughout the country and already in July there had been explosions at Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh and, on the day previous to this entry, at St John’s Westminster.
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