Posts Tagged berghers hill
Kate Frye (or, rather Mrs Kate Collins), one-time actress and suffragist activist – and an excellent diarist – spent the Second World War at her home, ‘Hill Top’, in the tiny hamlet of Berghers Hill, perched on the ridge above Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire. Even in this remote spot they were not spared bombing.
On 1 September 1940 Kate noted in her diary ‘German planes – hour after hour – that nasty heavy jerky drone.’ 8 September ‘German planes droning over head – terrific search lights – a great red glow over London – flashes of gunfire and bombs. About 3am things seemed to get quieter and I went to sleep. London had its biggest raid from 5am till daylight – fires, killings and maiming and making people homeless. Most of it down by docks and East End.’ 26 September ‘The sirens went about 12 midnight. German planes have been going round and round for an hour and I heard bombs and gunfire in the distance.’
15 October 1940 ‘Had my bath before 9.30. A raid warning. I could not help thinking of the change from a year ago, when no bombs and a warning put one all in a flutter and now I got into a bath and took no notice.’ 16 October 1940 ‘Evening. Germans had been circling and dropping bombs and then three crumps. I thought our end had come. Folks came from next door and John went out with them to put out paraffin incendiary bomb in The Heights garden. One in our garden by the Woodman’s Hut. I started sweeping up glass and nailing up dust sheet to keep rain out.’ Next day ‘I saw the trees down round the bomb crater. The miracle is we are alive and as far as we can tell the house, except for one window, safe. A great deal of damage to the cottages and to the Kennels [this was a large house owned by Kate’s much richer relations, the Gilbey family].
The Woodman’s Hut Theatre was the local entertainment centre, for it was here that Kate and John staged short community plays. One was ‘a war-time German scene which I am at present calling “Heil Hitler” It is really Brenda Gilbey’s plight visiting in Bavaria.’ Kate had not been impressed by Brenda’s discipleship of Hitler. ‘Heil Hitler’ was staged in the Woodman’s Hut Theatre in January 1940, together with ‘Recalled to Life’, a sketch John had carved from A Tale of Two Cities.
The manuscripts for these sketches haven’t survived, but others have, all designed, in one way or other, to raise morale. One, ‘Go To Pot: a sketch of silly people for silly people’, alludes to wartime conditions, such as paper shortages, as well as to local Wooburn places and people. Another, ‘Babes in the Wood with the Blessed Gerard’, was written for performance by the St John’s Ambulance Brigade cadets, Blessed Gerard being the founder of the Knight’s Hospitallers. The manuscript indicates that over a number of performances lines were updated so that, early in the war, gas was cited as Hitler’s secret weapon but, by 1944, that had been changed by hand to read ‘the pilotless aircraft.’
A third sketch, ‘Time Is with Us’, has as its protagonists two wandering masons whom Kate based on the wooden figures on the front of an ancient building that was once Wooburn’s Royal Oak pub. Through these characters she tells a tale of a witch burned at the top of Windsor Hill, which leads up from Wooburn Green to Berghers Hill. That witch had cursed, ‘As I go up in flames – down shall I come one day in flames to punish you. Bombs – Bombs that’s what ‘twill be.’ ‘If any mother son of you shall be alive until that day or any of the kith and kin of you who stand and laugh shall be on Beggars Hill when Bombs are falling down – then woe to them.’
While John manned an Observation Post and ran the local St John’s Ambulance group, Kate entered, of necessity, into the wartime spirit of ‘make-do-and-men’.For instance, before the war they had often eaten rabbit, a cheap meat, bought from the butcher. But during the war John set out to catch rabbits himself. As Kate wrote: ‘It’s really dreadful work and John has had to kill them’. But she was able to spread the largesse so that ‘all around have all had pies.’ She was remarkably stoical in playing her part in the process, writing in her diary ‘John found he’d snared two bunnies. One dead the other he had to kill. However he was awfully good – got the jackets off beautifully and disembowelled them. I then washed them, cut them up and left them to soak. Cold work.’
Finally, after five and a half years of life such as this, came her diary entry for 8 May 1945 – ‘VE Day and it’s All Over. The wireless has been on and it is so wonderful one is not utterly cut off. John at decoration – what we have in stock and bits of wire and string and a great do and the getting ready to hear the Prime Minister at 3 o’clock.’
Later Kate was ‘on Wooburn Common to see John set light to the Bonfire and try and get some bangs going.’
Back at Hill Top, they heard the ‘relay of King’s Speech at 9pm. He got along well – here and there some terrible pauses. Then the news and description of all the seething masses of people cheering and it’s just fine. What we have always looked forward to and knew must happen one day – even in our darkest hour, but that it has happened is just a miracle. Then to light flood lamp and all walk round and admire and the house did look pretty. John has worked on it. Then cocoa and biscuits and more wireless at midnight and afterwards.’
You can read the story of Kate’s life here. It will make good lock-down reading. Kate’s diaries, recounting her experience of the Second World War day by day, are now held in the Archives of Royal Holloway, University of London.
Tomorrow – 24 September – I shall be presenting Kate Frye to the Wooburn Festival. I shall be talking about her life – from the age of Victoria to that of Elizabeth – in Bourne End and Berghers Hill – and describing her efforts to interest the area in ‘Votes for Women’.
The talk will be illustrated with many photographs from Kate’s extensive archive and there will be an opportunity to look at other items of local interest from her collection that I will bring with me.
See here for full details of the talk – 7.30 pm at Bourne End Library.
Copies of Campaigning for the Vote will be on sale – signed if you wish!
Kate Frye’s Diary: What Was Kate Doing One Hundred Years Ago Today – The Day She Appears On Our TV Screens?
Tonight Kate Parry Frye – in the guise of Romola Garai – appears on our television screens (Sunday 17 August, ITV at 9pm). What was she doing on this day 100 years ago?
Kate was still on holiday from her work with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, spending the time with her sister and mother in their rented rooms at 10 Milton Street, Worthing. However, this was no summer idyll such as the Fryes had enjoyed in days gone by. Then they had rented a large house and travelled down from London with their four servants, to spend a season by the sea. Now that they were virtually penniless, these rented rooms were all they could call home. In the life of Kate and, more tragically in that of her sister, we see the jarring disconnect when young women, brought up to a life where marriage was to be their only trade, are left with insufficient money to support their social position and expectations. As such Kate’s life story is very much a tale of its time.
Monday August 17th 1914
Gorgeous day. Up and at house work. Out 12.30- just to the shops. Wrote all the afternoon and after tea to 6. Papers full of interest. Preparing for the biggest battle in the World’s History. There is no doubt the English have landed over there. I hear from John most days – that he is very busy but not a word of what his work is. Mickie [her Pomeranian] and I went out after tea. Agnes still a bit limp.
John Collins, Kate’s fiancé, who had long been an officer in the Territorial Army, had already been recalled to his barracks at Shoeburyness – leaving his engagement with a touring repertory theatre company. Kate’s sister, Agnes, at the first hint of the European trouble had taken to her bed, prostrate. Kate, a would-be playwright, was busy writing – although exactly what she was writing at this time she doesn’t divulge. On her death forty-five years later she left behind a box of unpublished scripts – and one that was published. She hoped one day to achieve fame and fortune. As it was she would soon be back at work at her suffrage society’s headquarters – with a new role as organizer of their War Work Work Room.
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.
I’d love to hear what you think of Kate and the life she lived.
To read in detail about Kate’s involvement in the women’s suffrage campaign – in a beautifully-produced, highly illustrated, conventional paper book – see Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.
On her birthday – 9 January 1915 – Kate Frye had at last married her long-term fiance, John Collins. Two years later he was fighting in France and she was living with her mother and sister in a house at Berghers Hill, Buckinghamshire, courtesy of her mother’s sister, the wealthy Mrs Agnes Gilbey. A small cluster of cottages on a ridge at the top of a steep hill above Wooburn Green, Berghers Hill lay exposed to the elements. The wind whipped through Kate’s cottage, bedrooms were icy, the pipes froze – and burst. The walk down the hill to Wooburn Green and Cores End, whether by the road or the path through Wooburn Manor Park (the Gilbey property), was treacherous in winter.
Tuesday 9 January 1917
Woke to a terrible morning – dark & cold & sleet. It continued to sleet & snow & hail at intervals all day and the wind out was cruel. The anniversary of our wedding day. Two years ago at Hove. All day long & into the night I kept thinking at this time we were doing so & so and Oh it was sad to think of the present and to wonder whether John was alive or dead. It comes so suddenly – the death to them and it would be hours & days before I should hear.
Agnes [Kate’s sister] still seedy & in bed and so cross with both Mother & I. I went off soon after 10.30 to Cores End to seek a Cod’s Head for the cats & fish for her dinner. Couldn’t get the former, the latter she refused to eat when cooked and sent up.
Writing letters most of the evening and after supper sat over the fire trying to get warm & thinking, thinking. Fortunately Mother went to bed. A letter from John – the first since Friday.
For more on Kate – look out for Elizabeth Crawford (ed): Campaigning for the Vote: the suffrage diary of Kate Parry Frye to be published by Francis Boutle Publishers in February 2013