Although I am no longer the guardian of Kate’s diaries, I am still able walk in her footsteps. The hottest day of the year earlier this week found me in Rye in Sussex. I was recovering from a short, sharp illness but the overnight visit had been booked ages ago and I really didn’t want to forfeit the outing. However, rather than wafting around Rye as I had envisaged, I managed only to place myself for a brief moment outside the digs in which Kate Frye had stayed in April 1911 and take in the scene before retiring to enjoy a lady-like recline.
Kate had been sent by the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage to rouse Rye to the Cause. She had booked two rooms in the digs – the other was for one of the NCSWS ‘s founders – and Kate’s ‘sort-of’ friend – Alexandra Wright.
Their landlady was a widow, Mrs Jane Harvey, who lived in the house with her 23-year-old daughter, Lilian, who worked as a clerk.
Like the Rev Llewellyn Smith we were staying at the Mermaid Inn. I doubt it has changed much since Kate escorted him there 105 years ago. If you have a feel for these things – that time is only a thin layer – you might sense the Rye of Kate Frye merging with that of Mapp and Lucia.
Wednesday April 19th 1911
Did not stop before Ashford and changed there for Rye. Got a porter to bring up my Trunk and walked to Mrs Harvey, 13 Market St. What will happen to me with such a number?
Real lodgings – but nice and clean and two nice large bed-rooms – much larger than the sitting-rooms. I went out for a few minutes stroll – came in about 7. Unpacked my bag – had supper at 7.30 – then my box and arrived so I went up and unpacked that – then wrote letters & diary till 10 o’clock. Felt rather tired – and very on Tour – the Sunday night feeling in a strange town being intensified by the Church Bells being practised.
[The last comment harks back to Kate’s days as an actress – on tour].
Thursday April 20th 1911
Up in good time to breakfast – wrote a little then out the shops – and then back to fetch Bills, which had been sent in last night – and to start my canvassing. Did all up and down the High St and Mint as a beginning. Didn’t feel very impressed with my work but suppose it is alright. In to lunch at 1 – then at 2.30 out to Playden where I had some addresses and found a lot more. It was a good way so I stuck to that district. No real success – so many people out. In to tea at 5.30.
A little more Bill distributing – then to the station to meet Alexandra, who arrived at 6.30. We walked straight up and a man came up with the box. She unpacked and we chatted. Had dinner at 7.30. Talked till 11 o’clock, then to bed. A lovely day.
Friday April 21st 1911
Breakfast at 8.30 – a little writing then Alexandra and I went out to the shops and bought lunch. She came in to do some writing for the rest of the morning and I went paying calls. Met with some success. Got in the Nonconformist set and kept on till 1 o’clock. Alexandra went out again from 2.30 till 3.30 – then came back and a Miss Harris, Winchelsea, and Miss Spalding, the nurse, here came to tea. Out at 5.30 till 7 again – more calls. A lot of people out but we got hold of the Vicar who promised to come. It was very windy all day and rather cold but the view was nice.
[Miss Margaret Spalding was the district nurse, who lived at Church Cottage. She joined the NCSWS.]
Saturday April 22nd 1911
A glorious day – really beautiful. Breakfast 8.30. Some writing – then I went out. Did the marketing – some canvassing – set Alexandra’s feet in the right direction for Playden and continued my canvassing unto past 1.
Came in very tired. Alexandra did not get in till past 1.30. At 3.30, having changed, we went out on business to station & Hotel etc – then tea at a Mrs Clements and her two daughters at 4.30. 4 other ladies were there to meet us. It was rather appalling – but I think I was given a gift. More calls after shopping. Tea at 7. Supper. Talk & writing.
[Mrs Elizabeth Clements, 56 year old widow of a leading Rye estate agent and valuer . One daughter, Katherine (Kitty), was a teacher of music. They lived at 6 High Street.]
Monday April 24th 1911
Alexandra had some writing to do – so I did the shopping and then more calls all the morning about town. After lunch, to Playden more calls, more success, and one fearful & furious Anti. It was a lovely day. A few more calls after tea with Alexandra and bearded one very notorious lady but found her quite nice. Then to tidy ourselves and to have our supper. More letters afterwards. Met and had a long chat with Miss Spalding
Tuesday April 25th 1911
Another nice day. To the shops in the morning and then canvassing again. But we are getting to the end of our list, and I really had to slack in a bit. I began to feel very tired – yesterday I was at it all day long. So after lunch I did not go out but had all the Literature to see to.
In the evening Alexandra and I went out together. A few successful calls – especially good with the school master. I think Alexandra converted him. Both awfully tired but in to change to go and have supper with Miss Spalding. There was another lady there. We talked all ‘Suffrage’ and came away at 10 – a little warm over our fire and then to bed.
Wednesday April 26th 1911
Alexandra was very nervous all the evening as to the result of the meeting but I felt sure it would be alright. Showers in the morning but the day was fine. Alexandra & I went out, bought dinner, paid Bills etc and did some jobs. After lunch Alexandra lay down on her bed and went to sleep and I did some of my packing up etc.
To the Hall at 4 o’clock to get it settled to our taste – a long job – to put out Literature etc. Back at 5.30. Miss Ogston had arrived and we began on the arrangements. She had had some tea – so we had ours – an egg. Then to change – leaving Miss Ogston to have some dinner at 7. Alexandra and I went to meet the Rev Llewellyn-Smith at 6.30 and take him to the Mermaid Inn. A chubby, cheerful young clergyman who seemed quite ridiculous when he spoke, as he constantly did, of ‘my wife’.
Leaving him to dine, we went on to the hall soon after 7. A Mrs Harrison and a Miss Mac Munn had arrived from Hastings so Alexandra took them back to Market St to have a rest – while I waited. [I] received the Stewards – two Miss Harrisons of Winchelsea, Miss Spalding and Miss Clements. They sold Literature and the Misses Harrison and I took the collection – £1-3-7. Lady Brassey took the Chair and her daughter came with her in a lovely car – they had to drive 50 miles so it was awfully decent of her, but she is very keen. A Lieut Col A Savile came to assist Lady Brassey take the Chair and spoke after her. Then Miss Ogston – then Mr Smith.
I didn’t hear the speeches as I was outside with the boys – then in amongst some rather troublesome youths. But nothing happened and we had an excellent meeting – quite full and overflowing. The Vicar came, bringing Miss Proctor, who had vowed she would not come. I was very glad when it was over. Every one congratulated us and seemed to think it was a record for Rye. Miss Ogston went off with the Harrisons of Winchelsea. Mr Smith and Miss Spalding walked up with us – then went on to their respective houses. Alexandra and I had an egg each and some bread & butter. Then I went through the Literature and collection and we did accounts til midnight. Then to bed.
[Mrs Darent Harrison and Miss Lettice MacMunn were both member of the committee of the Hastings and St Leonard’sW.S. Propaganda League.]
Thursday April 27th 1911
We woke to a pouring wet day and it kept on till after 12. The Rev Mr Smith appeared before breakfast was over – buoyant as ever. Then Miss Spalding came in and we all talked. She did not wait long, but he did not go till 11.30 or after and then we had to drive him forth. I went out about 10.30 to buy the dinner after I had packed up the Literature Box, and then we sat talking. Alexandra and I at last got upstairs to finish our packing – and left our boxes to come by Advance Luggage. Had lunch at 12. Then to the station for the 12.55 train – after parting with Mrs Harvey, our most kind and moderate landlady.
Kate was sent back to Rye later in the year but unfortunately Mrs Harvey’s digs were unavailable and the new ones not nearly so agreeable. Amongst all the other details of this second visit, she did record one incident in Market Street – outside the Guildhall. The ‘hot penny’ ceremony is associated with that of the election of the new mayor – and is still carried out today.
Thursday November 9th 1911
Did my shopping and met Miss White. We were just against the Guildhall and saw the Mayor & Corporation come forth. It was so funny. I laughed till I cried – such frock coats and top hats on such heads. Then we watched the ancient custom of throwing pennies from the Hotel Balcony to the crowds below – such a scramble as good many got hard bumped. A good many pounds must have been thrown away like that – some of the coppers were thrown out hot on a shovel. Then out 3 till 5.30 to Playden. Met two very violent ladies – one good Christian woman, entertaining a working party for the Church, pushed me out.
For more about Kate Frye’s suffrage campaigning see here
For more about Kate Frye’s life story see here