Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 29 July 1914

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’. 

To discover more about the entirety of Kate’s life – her upbringing, her involvement with the suffrage movement, her marriage, her London flats, her life in a Buckinghamshire hamlet, her love of the theatre, her times as an actress, her efforts as a writer, her life on the Home Front during two world wars, her involvement with politics – and her view of the world from the 1890s until October 1958  – download the e-book – £4.99 – from iTunes – http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal. or  £4.99 from Amazon.


KateAs 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 29th 1914

A busy morning of packing and cleaning and washing. I had ordered a chop so had my meal in – and [went]  out at 3. Took a coat and skirt to try and sell but no one would have it – so had to take it to the Office. Gladys was there – very important and bad tempered. How she snapped at me. Mrs Chapman came in and she was discussing the grave crisis of the War. The area is spreading. She is going to Austria – and Alexandra and Gladys too – to the Tyrol – but they will never get there if things develop.

Had tea and said good-bye to Miss Burnaby who is leaving the staff as she had a very good appointment elsewhere – and good-bye to Miss Simeon and Gladys. It seems so final somehow. I could wish I wasn’t going back. I have grown so sick of the work. In saying good-bye to Gladys she said to me ‘Please don’t make a speech’ in such a rude, aggressive manner. I tried to turn it off by saying if I were doing so it was because I had had so much practice lately, and she said ‘Oh, Yes. Mr McKillop has been in today singing your praises – saying how well you speak that you ought to be made to speak, and what a splendid organiser you are, and what a wonderful person altogether.’ So I suppose that was the trouble. I got my salary and holiday cheque and made off.

Bus to Whiteleys and shopped, tried to get rid of coat and skirt – bus to Oxford Street and strolled all round the British Museum as I remembered a shop buying off me once. No good – so I enjoyed the curio and picture shops. Walked down to the Strand – had a vile meal at Slaters there – walked to Trafalgar Square and got my 24 Pimlico bus back at 9 o’clock. I wonder when I shall stroll about London again. Finished my packing and then to bed.

How Kate must have disliked lugging an old coat and skirt around London all day – in the vain hope of selling them for a shilling or two. Especially having listened to others in the Office making plans for the kind of continental holiday she had once enjoyed – and never would again.

Kate had already had considerable experience of selling garments belonging to members of her family to a variety of ‘old clo” women – usually around Kensington – as well as jewellery – and even her parents’ old false teeth – so I imagine she had become rather inured to the associated humiliation. By ‘strolled around the British Museum’ she means, of course, the streets around the BM, rather than the Museum itself. Bloomsbury was then a centre for curio shops, second-hand bookshops and picture dealers and picture framers. It still is, to a certain extent, if one blanks out the tatty souvenir shops.

And the number 24 is still the bus that runs from Trafalgar Square to Pimlico.

See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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