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.
Monday July 27th 1914 [Kate has been staying for the weekend at the Kennels, a house in which her aunt Agnes Gilbey was living on the Gilbey estate at Wooburn]
Breakfast 8.30. Put my things together, had a talk to Mrs Wootten on the Telephone at The Plat then with Constance walked to the Manor Farm and she showed me all over it. It is a dream of a place, and the garden is perfect. Then she saw me off by the 11 o’clock train to Paddington.
At Maidenhead Mrs Burls was seeing her daughter Olga and ‘Emma Murry’ off and they got in my carriage – she recognised me so I had to chat. I was very absorbed in the paper. Great and serious news – a terrible conflict between the Nationalist Volunteers in Dublin and the Police – 3 shot dead and many wounded. Will this mean an Election? Things seem really serious in Ireland – and then the even more serious continental news.
By underground to Victoria and bus to Claverton St. Just unpacked my things and then bust to Victoria – lunch at Slaters and met Mrs Chapman at 3 o’clock and we went to Peckham together canvassing. We kept on until about 5.30 – having the usual sort of experiences – then tea together in an ABC and I saw Mrs Chapman off. I did some more canvassing, then bought an evening paper and went into a Lyons and ate a macaroon to read it. There is going to be serious war and Russia and Germany are beginning to fall out now. Oh dear.
To the Triangle at 7.45 – and our meeting at 8. I took the Chair and Miss Hawley and Miss D’Oyly were the speakers. I got the names of 10 sympathisers and we had a nice meeting but did not keep it going so long as ususal. I was back home at 10.15. had some supper of a kind and then to bed.
The significance of looking around the Wooburn Manor Farm lay in the fact that Aunt Agnes Gilbey, together with her unmarried daughter, Constance, and her widowed daughter, Katie Finch-Smith, were soon to move into this house on their estate – and remain there for the remainder of their lives. Olga Burls who sat with Kate in her railway carriage on the way back to London was then about 17 years old and, with the middle name ‘Gilbey’, was in some way related to the family. I can only guess that ‘Emma Murry, whose name was put in quotes by Kate,’ was a dog – unless, of course, she was a maid!
As we can see Kate was still – just – marginally more concerned about events in Ireland, which might trigger a General Election and thereby disrupt her planned holiday break, than with war preparations in Europe. And, of course, Peckham still needed to hear the message – ‘Votes for Women’.