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.
Sunday July 19th 1914
Slept until late. John came in early to fetch his things and then did his packing and made his arrangements and did not come until 12.30. We sent by bus to Charing Cross and had lunch at Appenrodts in the Strand.
Then a bus to Hampstead Heath. It looked very threatening and we had one shwoer, then it cleared off and we were able to wander and sit about – there were couples sitting and lying at every turn. It really is a most beautiful place. We wandered about and came to Spaniards Road so found our way to the Old Bull and Bush where we had a 1/- tea amd sat in the garden and watched people being photographed. It wasn’t very nice.
Then by Tube to Covent Garden and to the London Opera House to a meeting of the Theatrical folk called together by Mr Poel to consider the way of getting the Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival to come off in 1915 into the hands of the Profession. Stewart Headlam – very old now, was in the Chair. Mr Poel spoke, Mr Mulholland, Miss Horniman and Miss Lena Ashwell. It was a very small gathering in front. John and I were practically first in the theatre and sat in the front row – one was admitted on one’s performance card. Very few people of any note were there. It seemed strange to be figuring at a theatrical meeting again – but I always feel to belong more to that than anything and I do agree with Mr Poel that Shakespeare was an actor and wrote essentially for the stage and that we should claim him as one of us.
The meeting began at 8 and was not over until past 10. We walked to the Corner House – such a dense throng of people about the streets it was difficult to get along. I have never walked through Leicester Square before on a Sunday night – it is horrible. So as they close early Sundays we had to make a hasty meal of sandwiches. Walked to the Bus and only got one as far as Victoria and walked from there.
Said good-bye as John is due at rehearsal at 12 o’clock tomorrow at Weston-super-Mare and his cab is ordered for 6 am. He was miserable at saying good-bye. I should like to go and see him act for a week during my holiday. I mean to go if I can, but my plans never come off. Otherwise we are not due to meet until Christmas. He has signed on with the Alexander Marsh Repertory company for another year at the old salary £3 per week. It is splendid experience but if they are all as awful as he says they are he may get into some bad ways. I wonder if he can act. I have enjoyed having him here these three weeks – he is very cheery but I have often felt too tired to be nice. I have tried to give him a good time – the three weeks has slipped by.
He waited to see me upstairs and I waved from the window, and he walked backwards down the middle of the road. Then I shed a few tears. it’s all very miserable.
This really was a holiday for Kate and John -a wander on Hampstead Heath was such a typical London thing to do, but I don’t ever remember them going there before – and is fittingly poignant in retrospect as John’s farewell to peace-time London. The garden behind the pub was dotted with tables and chairs where they sat to eat their 1/- (one shilling) tea.
The tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth actually fell in 1916. This gathering of the ‘Profession’ was probably in response to a meeting held in July by ‘ a group of distinguished men’ headed by Lord Bryce, president of the British Academy. It looks as though the ‘Profession’ felt it was being excluded from the commemoration plans and wanted to make its own mark. William Poel had founded the Elizabeth Stage Society in 1895 and as an actor and theatrical manager was particularly devoted to staging Shakespeare. Kate had had several brushes with him at the beginning of her theatrical career. Stewart Headlam was a leading clergyman – who, among his many activities, was involved with the London Shakespeare League, Annie Horniman and Lena Ashwell both ran their own theatre companies.
Throughout their lives John and Kate were devoted Shakespearean – and you will be able to read about their continuing involvement with the theatre in Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and sufffragette. In the 1920s John worked with the William Bridges-Adams company at the old wooden Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and even in the mid-1950s. well into their old age, John and Kate were still making expeditions to Stratford to see productions starring the new generation of actors – Richard Burton, Anthony Quayle, Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft.
You can read my post about the London Opera House (which was in Kingsway) and the suffragette movement here.
Presumably John’s interview with Frank Benson a couple of days earlier had come to nothing and he had decided to tour again with the Alexander Marsh Repertory Company – which specialized in Shakespearean productions. It was, as Kate said, ‘good experience’ – but it was now over 10 years since he started in the theatre.
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