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.
‘Thursday July 23rd 1914
To Office to attend the Committee for the last time as we break up next week. It was simply awful – Alexandra Wright lost her temper before everyone and made a scene. And then Miss McGowan lost hers and was frantic and Gladys was very rude to her. I felt like walking downstairs and away, but I made myself go back and I gripped Ailie [Alexandra] by the arm and did what I could to soothe her.
Everyone left but Mrs Hartley- she is very good with everyone and we four went out to lunch at Harrods together. But it was all most sickening. Came back and worked in the office until 6 o’clock and did some packing up there. Bus to Victoria – shopped and walked down. Rested till my meal at 8 o’clock and afterwards some writing.’
Well, from my pretty extensive reading of the minutes of suffrage societies I can say that such scenes were not at all infrequent. Of course usually we can only glimpse the atmosphere in the committee room from the wording and tone of minutes of a meeting. Here we have it unglossed. This was a fight – but about what, heaven knows.
Mrs Hartley, who appears here as a peace-maker but about whom Kate can sometimes be quite sharp, has an interesting history. She was born Beatrice Julia Sichel in Timperley, Cheshire, in 1857 – daughter of Julius Sichel, a merchant and Austrian vice-consul, and his wife, Matilda Britannia (nee Lloyd). Beatrice Sichel was orphaned after her mother died in 1872 and her father in 1874 – at Dinard. She was then adopted as her daughter by Eliza Lynn Linton, the novelist., and in 1880, at Hampstead, married Lion Hertz, who had been born in the Netherlands though a British subject. They had three children and, although I can find no record of Lion Hertz’s death in Britain, in the 1891 census Beatrice Hertz is described as a widow. By 1898 Mrs Hertz had changed/anglicized her surname – and those of her children – to ‘Hartley’. She had been hon secretary of the Hampstead branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage before defecting to help form the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage.
Mrs Hartley’s daughter, Olga, was co-author with Mrs Hilda Leyell of the rather influential The Gentle Art of Cookery (one of the re-issues of which I remember being delighted to receive as a Christmas present many, many years ago), was associated with her in ‘Culpeppers’, the chain of herbalist shops- as well as publishing at least a couple of novels. I’ve often wondered what cookery books Kate possessed when she had to start cooking in earnest after the end of the First World War. I wonder if the New Constitutional Society – and vegetarian – connection persuaded her to buy this book.
The war was to cast its shadow over Mrs Hartley – as Kate reveals in her diary entry for 30 November 1918 – ‘Mrs Hartley’s son Lynn was killed a month or two back. Poor woman and that is a tragedy indeed, she was simply devoted to him. Poor Mrs Hartley’.
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