Archive for category Kate Frye’s Diary

Kate Frye’s Diary: Armistice Day 1918

Kate Frye had worked as an organiser for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage from 1911 until the summer of 1915. In January 1915 she had married her long-time fiancé, John Collins, an actor who had for many years been a member of the Territorial Army. Now an officer, John was stationed at Shoeburyness with the Essex and Suffolk Royal Garrison Artillery until shipping out for France in December 1916. He spent the next two years on the Western Front and in June 1917 was awarded the Military Cross. His letters home to Kate are held by the Imperial War Museum.

One of the pages from her diary in which Kate describes her wedding day. It was she who attached the photographs of herself and John

Letter from John 1 Nov 1918


So it is all over or practically so I wonder what happens next. Please to look for a flat for us duckie. I am longing now to get home to my dear one for good. Oh, won’t it be lovely.

It is a very wet day and I have been running about all day expecting anything but I don’t think we shall ever move again except to go home. There is practically no great excitement here over this morning’s news. Everyone seems to take as a matter of course. It feels just like the end of a term at School where one does not quite know the time the train goes home or how to employ ones time until that is known. It is a most peculiar feeling. I expect the feeling will suddenly burst out however. I wonder how the people at home are taking it. Oh dear Muzz you don’t know how lovely it is to think I shall soon be home with you. It is almost unthinkable after all these years but it’s going to come true after all. I am quite well and safe and fancy I have heard the last shell burst that I shall ever hear. I am now thinking of getting up some of the plays and a concert. What about my mustache – shall I take it off yet, or when I get home? There used to be a German Captain in this house. He was in charge of a German Dog School and he had an English wife who was here with him. The old party who owns the house says that his wife hated the Germans much more than the Belgians did. They left one Doberman behind a great big wolf dog not a bad party but a bit wild. Well dearest there is no more news except that I do love you ever so much.

Fondest love


On the day the War ended Kate was at home in her cottage at Berghers Hill in Buckinghamshire and wrote in her diary:

Monday November 11th 1918 [Berghers Hill]

I was thinking and wondering every inch of the morning, and could not settle to anything. Was cleaning a collection of shoes about 11.30 in my room, the windows were open – I sat up and listened. Boom-Boom-Boom – then a Hooter and then I thought it time to bestir myself and went in to Agnes then downstairs to Kathleen [the daily maid] and out to listen to the various sounds proclaiming that the Armistice has been signed. And thank God for our many and great mercies. Mother was down the hill and had called at the Manor House – the news was all over the green and soon up here – and the remarks of the hill were marvellous. As soon as I could settle to anything I sat me down and wrote to John. Is he safe, and will he really be spared to come home to me? [She eventually manages to buy a copy of the Daily Telegraph] ‘Yes, the glorious news, as announced ‘Surrender of Germany’ Armistice signed at 5 a.m. Cease fire at 11 a.m. The D.T. has news of Abdication of the Kaiser and Crown Prince, and flight to Holland. The whole of Germany is seething with revolution. It seems as if it will be a second Russia.

Sunday November 17th 1918 [Berghers Hill]

A fine day, though cold. Woke up at 7 and went off to Church as a beginning to my day of Thanksgiving. I did wish I could have had a letter from John but I tried to give a whole hearted thanksgiving for our many and great mercies….[After Church] When I got in the Postie has just been bringing me a letter from John, written on the 11th. Oh I was thankful and feel indeed to have a grateful heart. He is safe and well and of course very very pleased and looking forward to coming home. [In afternoon] Mother, Agnes and I off to the special service of Thanksgiving at 3 o’clock. The Church was just packed, every one there including Sir John and Lady Thomas. Such singing and the reading of that wonderful and extraordinary lesson from Isaiah – a nice sermon from the Vicar and the singing by him more or less of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Kate wrote many plays during her lifetime but the only one published, Cease Fire!, was set at the Front, in a cellar of a ruined house ‘Somewhere in France’, during the final hour before the Armistice was declared. One of the main protagonists is clearly based on John, the character’s military career following the same somewhat idiosyncratic pattern as had his, his deep love for his wife driving the plot. Published by Samuel French in 1921, ‘Cease Fire!’ reads very well today.

You can read more about Kate – and John – in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary  and Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Both books are drawn from Kate’s voluminous diary, now held by the archives of Royal Holloway College

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Suffrage Stories: Kate Frye On BBC Three Counties Radio

BBC Three Counties Radio have broadcast an hour-long programme about the suffrage campaign – suffragist and suffragette – in the area that they cover. Kate Frye, who lived at Bourne End, was selected as Buckinghamshire’s representative – and the programme includes several quotations from her diaries.

You can listen to the programme here

And read all about Kate –

See here for details –

See here for details

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Suffrage Stories: Celebrating The Centenary Of The Representation Of The People Act, 6 February 2018

Well, 6 February 2018 was well and truly celebrated. I’m not sure if I ever remember the media getting behind another political anniversary with such verve  – the coverage was akin to that of a royal wedding. All the talking heads that could talk, talked.

You can catch me talking about the suffrage campaign on Woman’s Hour

And talking about my new book, Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists  on the Robert Elms Show on Radio London (starting at c. 2hrs 37 mins)

Kate Frye, whose diaries I edited as Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Frye’s suffrage diary and whose biography I wrote as Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette, had a starring role on BBC Radio 4’s PM Programme (from c 23mins) – preceded by an excellent exposition of the Representation of the People Act 1918 by Dr Mari Takayanagi (from c 18.40 mins)

Kate Frye also featured in yesterday’s special suffrage edition of StylistShe would have been amazed and thrilled to think of her daily round being immortalised in this way.

I also gave interviews to Radio Stoke, Radio Northampton, Radio Bristol, Radio Sheffield, Radio Lincolnshire, and Radio Derby – talking about suffrage activists in their areas.

Clare Balding’s programme Secrets of a Suffragette – about Emily Wilding Davison – in which I make an appearance – was shown again last night on Channel 4 and is available for 29 days on catch-up.

And, in my dealing capacity, I put together this list of the Top Twenty Collectable Suffrage Antiques for an antiques website.

What a day!

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Suffrage Stories/Kate Frye’s Diary: Farewell to Kate Parry Frye: Diarist, Suffragist, Actress, Playwright – And Friend

The entry in Kate's diary for 'Black Friday'

The entry in Kate’s diary for ‘Black Friday’ – the suffrage ‘battle’ in Parliament Square on 18 November 1910.

Today is the day that I part company with Kate Frye – at least in a physical sense.

Waiting collection in the hall are the 18 boxes that hold her extensive diary that runs from the late 1890s to 1958, her notebooks containing lists of all the plays she saw and concerts she attended (at least from the 1890s to 1914), the books in which, as a teenager, she wrote at length her critique of books read, her notebook listing the names of all her dolls – and there were very many – and who had given each one to her, her photographs – covering the 1880s to the 1950s – her family letters, flyers relating to her father’s parliamentary career, and the numerous plays she wrote.

After 7 years in my care Kate is finding a new – and, I hope, permanent – home in the Archive of Royal Holloway College. There her diaries and associated archive will be available to anyone who wants to understand what it was like to be a woman living through the last couple of decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. I am sure Kate would be delighted to rest in a seat of higher learning. One of her great regrets was that she did not receive a decent education:   ‘I do not understand why I was born if I wasn’t to be educated’ she wrote in her diary in 1914.

When I brought home a carload of dripping wet boxes packed with Kate’s life-long diary and laid them out on the kitchen floor to dry (for they had been stored in an extremely damp cellar) I had no idea that she would take over my life. From associated ephemera I could see that this diarist, Kate Parry Frye, had had some association with the suffrage campaign but it was only once I started reading that I realised what a unique view she gave. Unsullied by hindsight this was a contemporary account like no other of what it was like to work as an organiser for the constitutional suffrage campaign.

Kate Frye coverAnd out of this came a book Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary (see here for details).  It is a salutary corrective to a popularly-held idea that the suffrage campaign was all chaining oneself to railings, throwing stones, falling under horses, or being forcibly fed. Kate’s account is equally heroic in its way – travelling from town to town with no cheerful companion to share the adventure, having to find yet another set of digs and then fitting in with the peculiarities of each, braving the locals to find a chairman/woman for a meeting, organizing a printer, a bill poster, possibly the police if the meeting was likely to be rowdy. And then worrying if the speaker would turn up, would be heard if she did, if an audience would turn out, and worrying what to do  if the local youth disrupted the meeting. And so it went on, month after month. Kate relates it all, day by day. We can be there with her.

Obviously I read far more of the diary than the suffrage years in order to get the background to Kate’s campaigning years and was then delighted to be given the opportunity by ITV to write the story of Kate’s entire life. For Kate, played by Romola Garai (whose voice I now hear as I read Kate’s words), had played a small part in an ITV feature to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War – The Great War: The People’s Story.  The result was Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette (see here for details – you can read Kate’s life for a mere £1.19 – what good value!).  For, yes, in her ’20s Kate had fulfilled her ambition and taken to the stage.. ..another story to be told among so many others packed into one life…the cradle to grave story. Indeed I’ve stalked Kate’s life and seen the place where she was born, the the house where she grew up, the digs she stayed in, and have stood by her grave.

cover e-book

Way back in the 1960s, while I was at university studying history and politics,  there was no kind of book I liked better than an autobiography whose subject had had a Victorian or Edwardian upbringing. Books such as Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece,  or Emily Lutyens’ Blessed Girl, or Mary Clive, Christmas with the Savages,  or Molly Hughes, A London Child of the 1870s. It’s extraordinary to think that we are as far away – or as close – now to the 1960s as the 1960s were to the Edwardian period. For surely there is less difference between a 1960s and a 2010s childhood (apart from electronic gadgetry) than there was between 1910 and 1960?

Kate Frye photographed in 1896

Kate Frye photographed in 1896

Anyway, Kate’s diary gives a peephole into a late-Victorian childhood – in a family that was hoping to be upwardly socially mobile. Kate, even as a young girl, innocently comments on what we can see as gradations of the class system within her extended family. The Fryes finances proved to be desperately insecure – and so Kate experienced both what appears to be careless wealth and then grinding poverty – all the while having to keep up appearances. As the years go by, the lines harden. As an elderly woman she returns to All Saints Road in north Kensington and marvels that as a child she lived there, in a flat above her father’s shop.

And so it goes on ….I hope Kate’s life will provide a wealth of interest to some fortunate researchers. And, by the way, her published play, Cease Fire! – is set on the Western Front in the hour before the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Wouldn’t it be just the thing to include in a centenary commemoration?


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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Kate Frye’s Diary: Christmas 1897 – A True Victorian Christmas

By the summer of 1897 alterations had been made to The Plat, the house leased by Frederick Frye on the banks of the river Thames at Bourne End. It was substantially expanded, acquiring two circular-roofed turrets which housed additional reception and bed rooms. Now, for the first time, the family – Frederick, his wife, Kezia, and their daughters, Agnes and Kate  – were to spend Christmas there. In past years they had come down from London to stay for Christmas at the much grander home of Aunt Agnes Gilbey at Wooburn – a short distance from Bourne End. On these occasions Kate Frye had moaned in her diary about the boredom she had endured but now, in 1897, she was at last able to enjoy a Christmas untrammelled by another family’s conventions.

Frye's xmas card 1897 inside

The transformation of ‘The Plat’ – the star of the Fryes’ 1897 Christmas card

Frye's xmas card 1897 outside


Kate Frye photographed in 1896

Kate Frye photographed in 1896

From Kate Frye’s diary

Wednesday December 22nd 1897

I have bought Mother a jolly purse and today I have bought Agnes a silver thimble in a case – a thing she very much wants. Daddie a splendid pocket book – a real beauty and a pair of braces. The servants – Cook a purse – Emily a writing case – Alice a work case and Lotty Grey, the new microbe [such was the epithet Kate used at this time for the ‘tweenie’ maid] a silk neck handkerchief.  Mother has  bought Agnes a gilt chain purse by special request and me by desire a travelling case holding boot cleaning appliances, brown and white cream and brushes and leather. [We have bought] 10 shillings’ worth of toys from Aunt Anne’s [charity] bazaar for our Tree – a fairy for the top – glass balls amd birds – drums – trumpets and penny toys of all kinds and many more little things. Small hampers and drums filled with cottons, needles etc for the Servants as extras.

Thursday December 23rd 1897

Directly after lunch Agnes and I started on the Christmas Tree. It is such a beauty and touches the Drawing Room ceiling. We did up part of the presents – the principal ones in coloured papers. Just as we were in the midst of it Constance and Katie [daughters of Aunt Agnes Gilbey] arrived down – we just let them peep in the room which was in a fine muddle. .. Aunt Agnes’ presents arrived in the evening – a huge lampshade for Mother and two pairs of silk stockings each for Agnes and I – such beauties – couldn’t have chosen anything nicer. We were obliged to look at them – then wrapped them up for the Tree. We allowed Mother in the room but she didn’t assist but Daddie we couldn’t allow in much to his annoyance really. The Tree looks lovely – it ought to be a huge success. I have never seen one look nicer and it is simply crammed with things.

Friday December 24th 1897

Christmas Eve

It was a beautiful morning though still most bitterly cold – ever so many degrees of frost – and we went out – the three of us – to try to get warm – the house is icy. It was very foggy early but the sun broke through and it was lovely..Then went up to Cores End for Mother to go and see old Mrs Nicholls and leave her Christmas present. Directly after lunch the three of us started decorating till four o’clock. Pratt [the gardener] cut up the Holly and we put it and lots of mistletoe up everywhere – except Daddie’s room – he is most disagreeable just now.  Our turkeys haven’t arrived – they were to come from Leverett and Fryes at Finchley with lots of other foods. [Leverett and Frye was Frederick Frye’s grocery firm.]

[The Fryes’ rather glamorous friends, Norman and Stella Richardson, arrived from London to stay for the festivities.] Norman has brought us two lovely boxes of Fuller’s sweets and also presented his and Stella’s Christmas present to us in the evening. His is a silver backed manicure rubber each to Agnes and I and Stella’s a work bag made by herself each – such nice ones. Of course we won’t let them see the Tree – they are very funny over it and pretend to be very curious. We were all very jolly in the evening except Daddie.

Saturday December 25th 1897

Christmas Day

Agnes and I were called at a quarter to seven and got up and went to early service at St Mark’s Church. There were not many people. It was bitterly cold and very foggy. We didn’t have breakfast till about 9.30 as Mother and Daddie were late. Norman was down before we got in and Emi soon after but Stella of course had her breakfast in bed and had a fire to get up by. Mother, Emi and I walked to Wooburn Church for morning service – Agnes would hve liked to go with us but went for a walk to Maidenhead with Stella and Norman  – they were to see Mrs Quare and came back to lunch in a fly.

We met Katie just as we were going in Church so she made us go up to Aunt Agnes’ pew as only she, Aunt Agnes and Constance came to Church. I did enjoy the service – it was so bright and I think the Vicar is so nice. It was quite like old times and I felt we must be staying with them  – especially as we walked up the hill with them after Church. It was simply lovely up there – no fog and perfect sunshine – quite thawing the frost on the treees it was so hot. We saw Southard and Gilbert [Gilbey] who has not been at all well – then Aunt Anne [a sister of Agnes Gilbey and Kezia Frye, Kate’s mother] came in – we had already met her on her way to Chapple [sic]. Then after a chat and inspection of everyone’s presents we came away home. Met Mrs Southard & Henry and Lola and her maid walking up the Hill. They had just got back from Marlow where they drive to church.

We had a quiet afternoon round the fire in the Morning Room – can’t let anyone in the Drawing Room as the Tree is there. I slipped off after tea to finish it all off. We have got up fair fun and excitement over it – and made them all curious. We were all very merry at dinner – except Daddie who is still seedy – although we had no Turkey. Had a pair of our own fowls killed as they have not arrived – I don’t like Christmas dinner without Turkeys – but we had the Pudding, mince pies and crackers alright. Then came the Christmas Tree which was a huge success and we all went quite mad.

The Drawing Room at the Plat. I wonder where the Christmas Tree stood in 1897?

The Drawing Room at the Plat. I wonder where the Christmas Tree stood in 1897?

We had the servants in at the beginning and gave them their presents – Pratt has had a splendid knife off it. We played all the musical instruments and with all the toys. Then after we had carted our things away we went in the Morning Room again in the warm. Daddie went to his room and went early to bed – he has given the servants each a present of money. We had snap dragon later on but I got most fearfully tired and was glad to go to bed. We all went off about 11.30.

The Plat - the cosy Morning Room

The Plat – the cosy Morning Room

Sunday December 26th 1897

We sat in the Morning Room round the fire – the Drawing Room is such a cold room and looks so miserable with the huge Christmas Tree stripped of all its glory. After tea Norman read ‘Alice In Wonderland’ aloud nearly  through to us and we sat round and roared – it is a lovely book I think – most awfully clever.


With this depiction of a true Victorian Christmas I wish my readers – in the words of the Fryes –


‘Hearty Christmas Greeting

and Best Wishes

For a Happy & Prosperous New Year’



cover e-book

For the whole story of Kate’s life – as told in her diary – download this e-book  from iTunes – or from Amazon. It would make a good read over the Christmas period.

Kate Frye cover

Kate Frye’s work as a suffrage campaigner in later years is fully covered in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.



All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere 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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Suffrage Stories/ Palmisting For The Cause At A Café Chantant – December 1909

December was always a good month for fund-raising suffrage parties.

Cafe Chantant NUWSS Dec 1909 - Copy

For the suffrage movement was not all about militancy and processions. Money had to be raised to pay for the campaigning and for the management of the rapidly-developing organisations – and much of it was done in the time-honoured way of bazaars and balls. Here is a flyer for a Café Chantant organised by the London Society for Women’s Suffrage in December 1909.

The flyer comes from the collection of Kate Parry Frye, where it lay between the pages of her diary in which she describes the event itself.

She was living at home in North Kensington and had already had some experience as a reader of palms at earlier suffrage fund-raising events. On 6 December 1909 Kate wrote:

‘Agnes [her sister] and Katie [Finch-Smith – neé Gilbey -her cousin] arrived about 12.30. I had lent Katie a white dress as she had not got one and she had brought up the regulation white cap and apron and I also supplied the colours. I wore my best. We started off just before 2.30. One bus to the Grove [that is, Westbourne Grove] and another to Kensington and to the Town Hall for the Café Chantant got up for the Funds of the London Society and National Union.

It began at 3 o’clock. Katie left her things in the cloak room and we all went upstairs together. Agnes had to pay her 3/- to go in and for tea but Katie and I went in free. I found Mrs Rowan Hamilton who had charge of the Palmists and she hadn’t got me a table and I would not begin till she had one brought. I had told her two chairs and a table would be required. I had a little spot close by screens – my name up – ‘Katharine Parry’ – spelt wrong of course. I was just beside the tea tables so I could be near Katie till the fun began. We introduced her to lots of people. I hoped she enjoyed it but I think she got very tired.

 Miss Lockyer [she had been housekeeper to the murdered storekeeper, William Whiteley] with a friend came very early and I am afraid did not enjoy herself much. I just spoke to her but could not leave my corner and she thought 2/6 too much to consult me – it was a lot. There was another Palmist ‘Ravario’ and my crystal gazer – Clare Crystal. Agnes and Katie consulted her and found her rather poor. The Wrights were there, of course. Alexandra only a simple ‘Tea Girl’ but she selected Agnes to have tea with her – such an honour for Agnes. Miss Carl Hentschel was a Tea Girl and her Mother helping everywhere and lots of people I know.

At first I could not get any clients – no-one knew me. The first was a man about 3.30 – a funny sort of thing – then a lady, who was so delighted she went out to boom me and she did – for, for the rest of the day, I was besieged. I could have gone on all night. It was hard work but I enjoyed it. I had such nice interesting people – a few made me feel miserable, they were so unhappy – but some were charming – two insisted upon having my address. One said she would try and get me some engagements – a Miss May Oakley. I kept on till 20 minutes to 6 when Agnes dragged me out to have some tea – and John [Collins, her fiancé] came upstairs – he had been taking tickets from 2.30.

So I had some tea and he had a second tea. We had it from Miss Doake’s table as Katie was away. I had promised to go back at 6 o’clock and there was already a client sitting in the retreat. I kept on till 6.30 when the affair was over for the afternoon and we all four went home feeling very tired. John had to be back before 8 o’clock and we were not back till after 7 – so had to rush about and he had a meal as quickly as it could be got and go off.

Leaving Agnes behind, Katie and I left again at 8 o’clock and went by bus to Kensington. It was all in full swing again. The entertainment going on as before and more theatrical and Ju Jitsu displays and heaps of people. John was taking tickets again as happy as a cricket. I had said I would be back 9 till 10 – but I was pounced upon straight away. I had a horrid few moments when I missed my muff but John found it for me.

We worked till I was nearly done and told about 14 or 16 – and 17 to 20 in the afternoon. I had to refuse more as it was 10.30 and I was so tired – though the people came and begged me to go on. Gladys herself honoured me – and she told me that people were giving up their tickets for the other Palmists to come to me. John seemed playing about all the evening and Katie was serving coffee and cakes. There was an auction of cakes – and I bought a lovely Fullers cake. All the cakes had been given and were simply lovely ones. It was pouring with rain and we had to have a cab to the flat. Got in about 11.30.’

Interesting to see that Edith Garrud was happy to give jujitsu displays for the non-militant society.

For more about Kate Frye and the suffrage movement see here:

Kate Frye cover



For more about the entirety of Kate Frye’s life see here

cover e-book

Kate was very sympathetic towards the Women’s Social and Political Union and was, briefly, a member. She was particularly concerned about improving the life of her poorer sisters and without a doubt would have loved the film ‘Suffragette’.

Suffragette Film Poster 2


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere 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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Kate Frye’s Diary: Abbie Frye, ‘L. Parry Truscott’, Ditchling And The Now-Visited Tomb

I dedicated Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette to all those women who, in the words of George Eliot, have ‘lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs’. Since then I’ve done a little to ensure that Kate’s life is no longer hidden and (with Helen Nicholson, Berghers Hill resident and Royal Holloway professor of theatre) that her tomb need not be unvisited – I stood by it myself at the beginning of the year.

Grave of Kate and John Collins - Holtspur Cemetery, Buckinghamshire

Grave of Kate (nee Frye) and John Collins – Holtspur Cemetery, Buckinghamshire

However there are others who feature prominently in her story  whose tombs are most definitely unvisited. Finding myself this week in Ditchling, Sussex, where I knew Abbie Frye, Kate’s cousin and dearest friend, had been buried, I thought, by finding her grave, I’d do something to remark her existence.

However, when we arrived at Ditchling Church – dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch – and I saw the large, well-tended graveyard I did doubt that we’d have any chance of stumbling across Abbie’s grave. But, as luck would have it, after enjoying the calm interior of the church and the scent of lilies,  on the way out I spotted on the ‘literature’ table a typed list of ‘Monumental Inscriptions in St Margaret’s Churchyard’. What a find. My most grateful thanks to the Ditchling History Project – for there, in the index appears Abbie’s married name – ‘Hargrave’.

Page from 'Monumental Inscriptions in St Margaret's Churchyard

Page from ‘Monumental Inscriptions in St Margaret’s Churchyard’ – note the top line

As you see, Abbie – and her husband, Basil – lie in an unmarked grave. Without the reference to its position in this guide (see also its website here) there would be no possibility of identifying it. As it is, you’ll doubtless be thrilled to know that I can show you the very patch of springy turf under which they lie.

Grave of Basil and Abbie Harrgrave in Ditchling Churchyard

Grave of Basil and Abbie Hargrave in Ditchling Churchyard

But who was Abbie Frye/Hargrave? Although she has left a considerable body of published work, unlike Kate she left no diary- but through Kate’s words we can glimpse something of her world and her life.

At the Fryes' home, The Plat at Bourne End. Abbie is standing on the left. Kate sits at her feet.

At the Fryes’ home, The Plat at Bourne End. Abbie is standing on the left. Kate sits at her feet.

She was born Gertrude A. Frye c 1871 in Calcutta, the daughter of Charles Frye, a brother of Kate Frye’s grandfather. Abbie’ s mother, Marguerite Maria Frye, had died by 1881 for in that year’s census Charles Frye is described as a widower – and a professor of music (I think he taught at King’s College, London). His address was 4 Buckingham Road, Tottenham, but his daughters, Abbie (aged 10) and Maggie (8), were by now in the care of his sister, Caroline, and her husband, Basil Hargrave, and living at 3 Havilland Terrace, Defoe Road, Tooting.

The latter, born in 1849, had married Caroline Frye in 1873 and was a clerk in an insurance office. Charles Frye died in 1886, orphaning Abbie and Maggie who by 1891 were still living with the Hargraves – now at 20 Castlewood Road, Stamford Hill, close to Caroline’s mother.

In the 1890s Abbie was working as a daily governess but at the same time was beginning her career as a writer of magazine stories, publishing them under her own name. One of the journals in which her stories appeared was Cycling World.  On Monday December 15th 1896 Kate wrote in her diary: ‘I heard this morning that the Cycling World has just accepted another  of Abbie’s Stories – I am more delighted than I can say and so is she I know. She got £2 10s for the other which is splendid pay I consider. I hope she will do as well by this.’ That £2 10s was very important for Abbie had no money of her own and her aunt and uncle had little to spare.

Kate’s diary is full of Abbie in whose literary career she took a keen interest. Her diary entry for Monday February 14th 1898 describes a visit with Abbie to Paternoster Row – to an agent  ‘Mr Burghes who has Abbie’s two tales to send about. She wanted to see him to ask him about them – so had asked me to go  with her. We were shown into his office where he was sitting writing and he was awfully nice. I don’t know that we did much good by going to see him – but it can do no harm and it may possibly wake him up a bit. He spoke so nicely and was very polite – I thought him very charming – he might have been most snappy one does hear such awful tales of publishers and those kind of people.’

Abbie’s home life was not at all happy. She and the Hargraves were by 1898 living in Sutton, where on Friday 1 July Kate paid a visit. ‘Mr Hargrave came in just before we left – him I cannot do with – such a surly sort of man – I didn’t even want to be nice to him – Aunt Carry I don’t so dislike though no doubt she is a bit of a vixen – but her good man I should soon fall out with. The girls seem just like visitors there and have to be awfully careful what they say.’

Mind you this visit came only a couple of months before Caroline Hargrave was diagnosed with cancer and underwent an operation on at Guy’s Hospital – so there might well have been a reason for the miserable atmosphere Kate experienced.

Abbie continued to live with the Hargraves, nursing Caroline while making a determined effort to progress as an author. In February 1902 Kate wrote that Abbie ‘has been having rather excitements lately. She sent the “The Poet and Penelope” to Fisher Unwin who won’t publish it at their own risk but for £50. Her Uncle has offered to lend her £25 and I have offered her the other £25 – my last money almost in the Bank – but I am glad for her to have it. Of course she will never get it out of this book but it is the only chance for the future I can see for her. I do hope it will be a success for her sake. Of course I don’t expect to see my £25 back and I do think it is good of her Uncle out of his small means to lend her the money.’

The Poet and Penelope was published in May 1902 by T. Fisher Unwin in the UK and by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the US, Abbie using the pseudonym of ‘L. Parry Truscott’. It must have been a sufficient of a success because, in 1903, 1904 and 1905, Fisher Unwin published three more of her novels. With Basil Hargrave, Kate had been instrumental in launching Abbie’s career and, less than a year later, her second novel, ‘When the Tree Falls’, bore the printed dedication ‘To Kate Parry Dear Cousin and Dearer Friend This Book’.

Over the next couple of decades Abbie published a total of thirteen novels but, although in her heyday quite successful, her pseudonym has proved all but impenetrable. A dictionary of pseudonymous writers ascribes ‘L. Parry Truscott’ to some other woman and the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction mis-states her dates and merely notes that ‘little is known about this writer’. It is only through reading Kate’s diary that her identity and the pattern of her life has been revealed.

Caroline Hargrave died in 1904 and in May 1905 there was a new development.  Kate ‘broke the news first to Mother then to Agnes about Abbie. Mother wasn’t a bit surprised but Agnes was astounded. If I am disappointed it is no use showing it – it is for the general happiness to make the best of it and as I only wish for the best for Abbie I will honestly do any little thing I can to bring about the best.’ ‘The news’ was that the man who, echoing Abbie, Kate always referred to as ‘Uncle’, wished to make his niece his wife.

Although Basil Hargrave was uncle to Abbie only by marriage, he had brought her up since she was a young child. Thinking him dull and despotic, Kate had never cared for ‘Uncle’ but, for Abbie’s sake, was prepared to do everything she could to ensure the marriage was accepted with good grace by the family. She went down to Broadstairs, where Abbie was staying, finding her ‘looking uncommonly well and very cheerful’. From now on Kate dropped the pointed use of ‘Uncle’, commenting ‘Abbie writes to Basil every day and gets Volumes in return. She is going to say “yes” to him when he comes for his answer at Whitsun. I am very pleased people are taking it well for both their sakes. He must be very fond of her and that he appreciates her writing is the greatest possible point in his favour. Now the thing is where can the marriage take place?.’

Marriage between uncle and niece was then prohibited under the laws of consanguinity (and would still be illegal if Basil Hargrave had been Abbie’s formal adoptive father) so advice was sought as to where the couple could go to enter into a legal marriage. On 13 June Kate was at Bourne End when she ‘heard from Abbie that she has given her word to marry Basil but they cannot find out where the ceremony can take place to make it legal. Jersey won’t do, where the deceased wife’s sisters go. In the evening I told Daddie and was fearfully amused at the way he took it. He was pulling up onions at the time and all the while seemed much more interested in onions than Abbie. He said he wasn’t surprised and of course I knew he would not be likely to object and he is going to find out “where” if possible.’

The answer was Brussels, where the wedding between Abbie Frye and Basil Hargrave took place on 2 August 1905. But before then Kate took Abbie shopping for her trousseau, lending her £16 to pay for indulgences, such as new underwear, that were the right of any bride. The cousins thoroughly enjoyed their scamper through the West End and Westbourne Grove shops and Abbie duly repaid the money out of her earnings from her next novel, “Motherhood”.

Chichester House, 11 High Street, Ditchling

Chichester House, 11 High Street, Ditchling

By 1909 the Hargraves had moved from the dreary Sutton house to the very much more agreeable village of Ditchling. In this pretty village, nestling in the South Downs, Abbie, as a novelist, was in her element amongst the bohemian artists and craftsmen who had begun to make it their home. Their first home in the village was Chichester House in the High Street, where in 1910 Kate paid them a visit and in their drawing room listened to a talk by Eric Gill on ‘Arts and Crafts in the Home’. You can read my post about this visit here.

In August 1911 Abbie had a son, Basil Truscott Hargrave. When, in the autumn, Kate paid another visit to Chichester House she wrote  ‘This is a most exciting visit, it seems so wonderful to see Abbie with her Babe – and Basil as a Papa for the first time at his age.’ Abbie was now 40 years old and Basil 62.

Basil Hargrave’s was the first coffin in that grave under the churchyard turf. He died in 1919, leaving very little money. Abbie was faced with the prospect of keeping herself and raising her son, now barely eight years old, on the proceeds of her writing. Sales of her novels were now negligible and it was difficult to interest publishers in new work. In the 1920s she managed to place two novels, one under the pseudonym ‘Anna Hurst’ and another under her own name – ‘Abbie Hargrave’.

Abbie and Truscott continued to live in Ditchling, latterly in ‘Oldways Cottage’. It was on 16 November 1936 that Kate received a letter from Truscott telling her of Abbie’s death on the 14th. The next day Kate wrote of  ‘a dreadful feeling of sorrow and blankness. If my sense of loss is wide and deep what must Truscott’s be – and what of his future. But one feels it could not have gone on – that mounting load of debt and Abbie’s ill health. But my life-long friend – and such a loving one – I shall miss that affectionate interest so very much.’ Kate ‘bought a black hat and some grey stockings’ and on 19 November travelled by train and bus to Abbie’s burial, alongside her husband, in Ditchling churchyard. Dr Habberton Lulham, a Ditchling medical practitioner and photographer (you can read more about him here) was the only Ditchling resident present at the funeral whom Kate remarks. She had met him on her previous visits and there may have been others there whom she did not know and so doesn’t mention.

The following day Kate ‘sent a cheque for £5 to Truscott to begin to pay his mother’s funeral expenses’. However, this gift clearly did not cover the cost of a headstone.

Truscott Hargrave continued to live in Ditchling for a few more years, working for some of that time as secretary to the Saint Dominic’s Press, which had been founded by Eric Gill. He later ran a grocery shop at Upper Dicker

Hargrave shop


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