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.
Wednesday July 15th 1914
Writing in the morning. John in at 11.30. Jobs. Out 1. Lunch together at Slaters. Coming out we met one of John’s Brother Officers when he was in the Field Artillery – Mr Graham. I have not seen him since the day we met at Burnham but he remembered me instantly. ‘Why, we went yachting’, he said. He is very nice looking.
Then John saw me off at Victoria for Lordship Lane – and though we asked two officials the train dashed on and landed at Crystal Palace. I was mad. Had to wait some time to get back – then a long walk to find Mrs Melling 75 Underhill Road and the meeting was half over. Miss McGowan had organised it and I had asked some of my new Peckham People and wanted to go to see them and because the Rev Hugh [Chapman] was down to speak – but I felt I was not going to meet him and he was not there. Ill and has had to go away. Miss McGowan was in the Chair, Mrs Chapman speaking. A very fine meeting, about 50 people there, but very few would join.
It started to pour with rain, but I had my coat and flew for a train and when I got out near home it was stopping a bit.
John was watching for me and came in with me while I tidied myself. He had changed. Then bus to Charing Cross – walked to the Popular had dinner and then to the St James’s Theatre to see ‘An Ideal Husband’. George Alexander not in it, and some one else playing Phyllis Neilson Terry’s part. It was a most cruel and awful performance – vilely and atrociously produced and most of them were in fits of laughter.
As for the play I could hardly sit it out – such Anti-suffrage old fashioned twaddle – as for the last act – tosh. I rose up and tramped out before the curtain fell. If I had paid for my seat I should have fussed. We were simply prancing with disgust. I never did like Oscar Wilde, but this play is the limit. Back by bus from the usual spot.
John Collins had, as a very young man, fought in the Boer War and ever since, as well as being an actor, had been a member of the Territorial Army – hence Kate’s mention of a ‘Brother Officer’. It was now not long before he would be involved in another war.
The New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage was clearly concentrating a good deal of its effort at this time on wooing the inhabitants of Peckham and East Dulwich. Kate had organized an open-air meeting in the centre of Peckham a couple of days ago – today’s was what was termed a ‘drawing-room meeting’ – in the home of a sympathiser. The Rev Hugh Chapman, whom Kate was keen not to miss, was the brother-in-law of the NCS president and was the vicar of the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. Kate was somewhat enamoured of him. For full details of her past – somewhat surreal – encounters with him see Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.
The St James’s Theatre was in King Street, off St James’s Square, and in 1914 was owned and managed by Sir George Alexander. ‘An Ideal Husband’opened on 14 May 1914 and closed on 24 July. The critics were rather more sympathetic to the production than was Kate. But then most were probably not suffragists! As Kate remarked, at least she – and, presumably, John – had not had to pay for their tickets. As members of the Profession they usually received complimentary tickets whenever they asked for them which, given that they were both addicted to theatre-going and relatively impecunious, was just as well.
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