Posts Tagged kingsway theatre

Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 8 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 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.

Wednesday July 8th 1914 [Claverton Street]

Had a letter from home in the morning, with the news of Kathie Ellis’s engagement to Mr Hucks, the brother of Norah’s husband, and who has only been a widower for a year and has 7 children all under about 12 years of age. She is a brave woman. She writes most cheerfully so I suppose she is pleased.

It poured with rain early, but though showery it cleared up in time for me to meet Mrs Heath at Victoria at 11 and go with her to Peckham where we canvassed until 1.30. She returned to town and I had lunch then rode all the way to Hounslow by bus. It rained at first so I had to go inside – for an hour to Putney, then I had an hour outside.

I had to go to the Police, arrange about the Lorry etc – then back from Heston Hounslow to Victoria – and a bus home. Got in at 6.

Wrote letters until 7 – dressed, called in for John at no. eleven. We went by bus to Oxford Street where we hurriedly ate a sandwich then walked to the Kingsway Theatre and sat in the Stalls to see ‘The Great Adventure’. I had seen it before, but I was most anxious for John to do so, and he loved it. I think it a most gorgeous play, gloriously acted – Ainley is perfection. Miss Wish Wynne was out of it, but the girl who played her part was excellent.

We walked down the Strand in search of supper and went in to the Cabin – and had a most villainous meal. I could hardly touch mine – and plates etc were filthy and there were some most appalling looking foreign people in the place.

We just caught the 12 o’clock bus from Trafalgar Square. I was dead tired and so glad of bed.’

Kathie [Kathleen] Ellis (1882-1963) was one of the two daughters of Frank Ellis of Bishops Stortford, who, like Kate, was related by marriage to the Gilbey family – the firm that dominated the wine and spirit trade . Kate and Kathie had been close, although not bosom, friends since childhood. William Hucks’ first wife, Ethel, had died in spring 1913, aged only 34.

In her diary entry for 30 June 1913 Kate remarked  ‘the death of Mrs Willie Hucks at the birth of her eighth child. And no wonder – she has only been married about 10 years and was never a giant of strength. Poor thing – done to death – and what will those seven little mites do without her?’

Well, the answer to that rhetorical question was that Kathie Ellis became their stepmother. Hucks was an ‘engineer and distiller’ – one of the Gilbey/Blyth circle.

By 1914 the buses on which Kate travelled would have been powered by engines – rather than horses. The tops, however, were still uncovered – hence her need to take shelter from the rain by travelling inside. As a rule, ever since she was young, Kate had much preferred to travel on the top – even at a time when it was not considered appropriate for a girl or young woman to do so.

‘The Great Adventure’ was a play by Arnold Bennett, which had opened at the Kingsway Theatre, directed by Granville Barker, in March 1913. The actor Henry Ainley was one of Kate’s favourites.

Henry Ainley (courtesy of website)

Henry Ainley (courtesy of website)

The Cabin restaurant where Kate had her ‘villainous’ meal this evening was on the north side of the Strand, just to the west of Wellington Street. It was one of small chain. The unusually large number of foreign tourists in London that summer was particularly remarked, not only by Kate but also by the press. Knowing Kate, who was the epitome of Englishness, by ‘appalling looking’ she probably meant loud and extravagantly dressed.

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


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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Two Days in April 1908

Kate Frye was a devoted theatre goer. She had trained as an actress and had toured for two or three years from 1904 and joined the Actresses’ Franchise League as soon as it was founded. 

A scene from ‘Diana of Dobson’s’ – an article in ‘The Sketch’, 10 February 1908. Courtesy of the V & A

 ‘Diana of Dobson’s, a romantic comedy that also criticized the ‘live-in’ conditions that Edwardian drapery stores imposed on their staff, was written by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952)  actress, author, and active suffragist. Lena Ashwell (1862-1957) was both the leading actress in the production and the manager of the Kingsway Theatre. ‘Diana of Dobson’s was the second play in Ashwell’s first season at the Kingsway. She was later a vice-president of the Actresses’ Franchise League and a tax resister. Dennis Eadie, in the ‘elderly character part’ was then only 33 years old.

The walk from Tottenham Court Road to the  Kingsway Theatre in Great Queen Street, to the west of Kingsway, would have taken the Fryes through the still relatively unsavoury St Giles and Seven Dials area.

Wednesday April 8th 1908

Mother, Agnes and I left just before 2 o’clock and went by bus to Tottenham Court Road and walked to the Kingsway Theatre just before 3 o’clock and we went in to the reserved seats to see ‘Diana of Dobsons’. It is nearly a month since I got the seats. We very much enjoyed our afternoon. The play is most interesting and amusing and sad too – underneath it all. Lena Ashwell, though her voice sounded tired, was very good – so was Hollard – and Dennis Eadie excellent in an elderly character part. It is quite a novel sort of play and I don’t wonder it is popular. It ought to make people think. The scene of the first act must be a revelation to lots of people.

The next day’s ‘Suffrage Discussion’ was organised under the aegis of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – a constitutional society. Although it was to be several years before the founding of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, there was obviously already an interest in the subject among the Jewish community.

Mrs Gertrude Spielman (1864-1949) born in Germany, was the wife of Meyer Spielman, who was later knighted. She was actively engaged in educational and other forms of social work, particularly with the Norwood Jewish Orphanage and was, in 1912, to be a founder of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage. 

Aylmer Maude (1858-1938) translator of Tolstoy, Fabian, was renowned as a persuasive lecturer. 

Mrs Campbell Lethbridge (1873 -1945), a woman of mystery, was born Sybil MacGregor Allen, in 1894 married William Lonergan, but by 1901 had become Sybil Campbell Lethbridge, a popular and prolific author. Find out more about her here.

Israel Zangwill, Jewish novelist, was always a great favourite of Kate’s.

Israel Zangwill, photographed in 1905

Thursday April 9th 1908

Agnes and I left in a cab at 8 o’clock to Mrs Spielman, 38 Gloucester Square. Got there with Alexandra and Gladys [Wright] and some of the other stewards and we all went up together. There was nothing for us to do at first except make the people sit tight – such a pack it was – hundreds – nearly all Jews except our own friends. It was a Suffrage Discussion – Mr Aylmer Maude in the chair – Mrs  Campbell Lethbridge spoke, Miss Spielman (oh! that was  painful) and Mr Zangwill. He, of course, was beautiful – but I am much afraid too frivolous to do any converting. He was so funny he made me laugh until the tears ran down my face. The discussion was most amusing – such weird people got up and said things. Afterwards we went up and talked to people. I got five members and did better than anyone – but it was hard work. I didn’t give myself any rest and kept straight on – while Agnes looked after our guests and saw they got something to eat. We came back in a hansom. Got in at 11.45 and then had supper. It was past one before John [her fiancé] departed and 2.30 before we got off to bed. I was tired.



Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford –  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

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