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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 onces 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 W0oburn 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 –

a

‘Hearty Christmas Greeting

and Best Wishes

For a Happy & Prosperous New Year’

from 

Elizabeth

cover e-book

For the whole story of Kate’s life – as told in her diary – download this e-book  from iTunes – http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal 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.

 

Copyright

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: The Lead-Up To War: 26 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’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

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.

Sunday, 26th July 1914 [Kate is staying for the weekend at the Kennels, a house in which her aunt Agnes Gilbey was living on the Gilbey estate at Wooburn]

A cold and showery day. I had a beautiful bath and was down to breakfast. Constance of course had been to Church but as she was not ‘feeling her best’ much to her annoyance she could not go to morning service. Aunt Agnes came downstairs and said she felt better. She stayed up until after supper. We had a fire in the drawing-room it was so chilly.

I wrote letters and chatted all the morning. Gilbert, Edith and their 3 daughters came to luncheon. A most uninteresting party – really Edith is a block. She never wrote to Mother when Daddie died – or referred to it in any way. She is horrible. Gilbert brought the news that the Stock exchange was in an awful way yesterday – in a state of collapse over the War rumours. Things are so allied nowadays that I suppose Servia and Austria make a panic everywhere – in case England is drawn in too. The ‘Chalklands’ family went off about 3.

I got ready and we went for a stroll all around the garden and on the hill. The valley did look lovely – the silver thread of the Thames running through it madee me very sad too – I cried a little. Then I sat out of doors until tea was ready, and just as we had started tea Newman’s Jack [that is Jack Gilbey, son of Newman Gilbey] – now a full blown Lieutenant and one of his younger brothers Frank arrived on a Motor Cycle. He has ridden from Aldershot and fetched his brother from Beaumont [Jesuit boarding school then at Old Windsor, Berkshire]  and came on to tea with his grandmother. They are most fascinating boys – Jack is a dear and so amusing. How well I remember the 3 in the old days Harry, Jack and Charlie. Charlie is now engaged to Lettice Watney. It seems simply absurd – she may be only a year or so older, but in type and character she seems a middle aged woman. What strange marriages they make.

After the two boys had gone Constance and I hurried off to evening service at the Parish Church. Mr Unsworth preached but was not very interesting. Back and changed for supper, when I had 2 goes of everything to make up, as I told them, for going supperless tomorrow. Bed at 10.10. They really have been more than kind and though I dreaded coming I have enjoyed myself.

The description of Constance ‘not feeling her best’ – inside Kate’s inverted commas – was probably a euphemism for ‘having her period’. In Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette  I do discuss the blight that menstruation appeared to cast over the lives of Kate’s circle – but I’ve not previously come across it as a reason for not being able to go to Morning Service. Unless, of course, when 11 o’clock came Constance was actually feeling unwell.

Gilbert and Edith Gilbey lived at ‘Chalklands’, a house at Bourne End that was subsequently owned by the writer Edgar Wallace. At this stage their family comprised three daughters (one of whom, Brenda, was to become too keen a supporter of Hitler for Kate’s liking at the beginning of the Second World War), to which a son was added in 1917.  All three of Newman Gilbey’s sons, Harry, Jack and Charlie, were fortunate enough to survive the coming war – although there were casualties among their cousins, including two of the sons of Gilbert and Newman’s sister, Agnes Shaw.

A few years earlier Lettice Watney had helped Kate organize a dance in aid of funds for the London Society for Women’s Suffrage –  in the days when Kate was still a volunteer for the Cause. Lettice was exactly a year older than Charlie Gilbey; they were married in June 1915. Lettice’s ancestry is inextricably linked, back through several generations, with the Gilbey and Gold families

Gilbey - Gold wedding

 

 

In April 1892 Kate and Agnes Frye were bridesmaids at this double Gilbey/Gold wedding . Agnes, carrying yellow roses, was among Mary’s bridesmaids – Kate was among Lizzie’s bridesmaids, who were themed with pink roses.  As Agnes remarked of a Blyth/Gold marriage in 1897  ‘Are they all going to marry each other?’ I can see that this phenomenon continues down until the present day.   Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette describes the way, for good and ill, the lives of the Frye family were intertwined with that of the Gilbeys.

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

Copyright

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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