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.
Sunday, 26th July 1914 [Kate is staying for the weekend at the Kennels, a house in which her aunt Agnes Gilbey was living on the Gilbey estate at Wooburn]
A cold and showery day. I had a beautiful bath and was down to breakfast. Constance of course had been to Church but as she was not ‘feeling her best’ much to her annoyance she could not go to morning service. Aunt Agnes came downstairs and said she felt better. She stayed up until after supper. We had a fire in the drawing-room it was so chilly.
I wrote letters and chatted all the morning. Gilbert, Edith and their 3 daughters came to luncheon. A most uninteresting party – really Edith is a block. She never wrote to Mother when Daddie died – or referred to it in any way. She is horrible. Gilbert brought the news that the Stock exchange was in an awful way yesterday – in a state of collapse over the War rumours. Things are so allied nowadays that I suppose Servia and Austria make a panic everywhere – in case England is drawn in too. The ‘Chalklands’ family went off about 3.
I got ready and we went for a stroll all around the garden and on the hill. The valley did look lovely – the silver thread of the Thames running through it madee me very sad too – I cried a little. Then I sat out of doors until tea was ready, and just as we had started tea Newman’s Jack [that is Jack Gilbey, son of Newman Gilbey] – now a full blown Lieutenant and one of his younger brothers Frank arrived on a Motor Cycle. He has ridden from Aldershot and fetched his brother from Beaumont [Jesuit boarding school then at Old Windsor, Berkshire] and came on to tea with his grandmother. They are most fascinating boys – Jack is a dear and so amusing. How well I remember the 3 in the old days Harry, Jack and Charlie. Charlie is now engaged to Lettice Watney. It seems simply absurd – she may be only a year or so older, but in type and character she seems a middle aged woman. What strange marriages they make.
After the two boys had gone Constance and I hurried off to evening service at the Parish Church. Mr Unsworth preached but was not very interesting. Back and changed for supper, when I had 2 goes of everything to make up, as I told them, for going supperless tomorrow. Bed at 10.10. They really have been more than kind and though I dreaded coming I have enjoyed myself.
The description of Constance ‘not feeling her best’ – inside Kate’s inverted commas – was probably a euphemism for ‘having her period’. In Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette I do discuss the blight that menstruation appeared to cast over the lives of Kate’s circle – but I’ve not previously come across it as a reason for not being able to go to Morning Service. Unless, of course, when 11 o’clock came Constance was actually feeling unwell.
Gilbert and Edith Gilbey lived at ‘Chalklands’, a house at Bourne End that was subsequently owned by the writer Edgar Wallace. At this stage their family comprised three daughters (one of whom, Brenda, was to become too keen a supporter of Hitler for Kate’s liking at the beginning of the Second World War), to which a son was added in 1917. All three of Newman Gilbey’s sons, Harry, Jack and Charlie, were fortunate enough to survive the coming war – although there were casualties among their cousins, including two of the sons of Gilbert and Newman’s sister, Agnes Shaw.
A few years earlier Lettice Watney had helped Kate organize a dance in aid of funds for the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – in the days when Kate was still a volunteer for the Cause. Lettice was exactly a year older than Charlie Gilbey; they were married in June 1915. Lettice’s ancestry is inextricably linked, back through several generations, with the Gilbey and Gold families
In April 1892 Kate and Agnes Frye were bridesmaids at this double Gilbey/Gold wedding . Agnes, carrying yellow roses, was among Mary’s bridesmaids – Kate was among Lizzie’s bridesmaids, who were themed with pink roses. As Agnes remarked of a Blyth/Gold marriage in 1897 ‘Are they all going to marry each other?’ I can see that this phenomenon continues down until the present day. Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette describes the way, for good and ill, the lives of the Frye family were intertwined with that of the Gilbeys.