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.
For the previous few weeks Kate’s fiancé, John Collins, had been renting a room in another house in Claverton Street but he has now left for the West Country, to take up a position with a touring repertory company. Kate is feeling rather bereft.
‘Wednesday July 22nd 1914
To meet Miss Jerningham at 11 at Victoria and with her to Peckham by Train and we canvassed until 1.30 and then had lunch together at Newmans. Back as far as Victoria and I did some shopping and got in at 3.30. Tea at 4.30 after a rest.
Changed and then bus to Victoria and train to Praed Street and to see Miss Lockyer. I had telephoned to her yesterday as I have been meaning to go for weeks. It poured with rain, but cleared up just as I got there. She was very pleasant and seemed glad to see me, but she is very flithered [sic]. Told me all about the Frank Whiteley Divorce case which is to come on and the reasons for it – all very terrible but it never seemed likely to be a success. She was a horrid little woman.
Then at 7 to Pembridge Crescent to have dinner with Alexandra and Gladys. Mr Wright was in to the meal but I did not see him afterwards. Both the girls rather miserable – the cottage or rather the Mother at Hythe does not seem a success.’
‘Newmans’, which may have had branches in both Peckham and Brixton, was, I think, a provisions dealer – with a shop that also incorporated a cafe. It may have been similar to the shops in the chain – Leverett & Frye – operated from the 1870s by Kate’s father. At least one of the Leverett & Frye stores – the one in Charlotte Street in London – had included a cafe.
Miss Lockyer had been ‘lady housekeeper’ to William Whiteley, ‘the Universal Provider’. He had been the owner of Whiteley’s department store in Westbourne Grove before he was gunned down outside his office in 1907. Kate’s father had been a friend of Whiteley and for a time the families had been close. In their teens Kate and her sister were often paired up – at dinners and at outings to Ascot – with Frank Whiteley and his brother, Will. As she grew older, however, Kate professed to lose interest in them, thinking them too ‘shoppy’, although still enjoying the occasional whirl through London in Frank’s car. Frank had married in 1904 but in 1914 had filed for divorce, citing the cause as his wife’s misconduct with Capt Lancelot Gladwin. The settlement of the divorce case was reported in newspapers on 1 August 1914 and Ethel Whiteley and Gladwin married in October. The ‘horrid little woman’ was, of course, the transgressing Mrs Whiteley, not Miss Lockyer.
Kate had known Gladys and Alexandra Wright since 1906, when they all campaigned for the Liberals at the General Election. it was thanks to them that she was working for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. Their parents seem to have lived rather separate lives. The girls and Mrs Wright often rented houses in the Hythe area for extended periods, but I don’t think they were joined there by Mr Wright. You can read much more about Alexandra and Gladys in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.
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