Women’s Institute

  Women’s Institutes are British, community – based organisations for women. They were formed in 1915 with two clear aims : to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during WW1. The aims were then broadened and it is now the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK. It celebrated its 95th. aniversary in 2010 and at that time had approximately 208,000 members in 700 Women’s Institutes. Re-reading this chapter in September 2016, I realise that it has just had its 100th. anniversary.

The WI movement originally began in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada in 1897 when Adelaide Hoodless addressed a meeting of the wives of members of the Farmer’s Institute. WIs rapidly spread throughout Canada and the first WI meeting in England & Wales took place on 11 September 1915 at Llanfairpwll on Anglesey.

In August 1962, at a meeting in the Day School, a Women’s Institute for the village was formally inaugurated by two voluntary County Organisers for the Yorkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes. It was in fact the 624th. to be formed in Yorkshire. Miss J.Grainger of Wilshaw was in the chair and 83 members were enrolled and the following officers were elected by ballot. Mrs. A.Stangroom – President. Vice-presidents – Mrs.R.Stephenson and Mrs.E.Mosley. The secretary was Mrs.W.Wood with Mrs.W.Lax as treasurer. Committee members were Mrs.D.Binstead,Miss S.Brook, Miss E.Dickenson, Mrs.A.Fallas, Mrs.A.Swallow and Mrs.R.Whittaker.

The monthly meeting for March 1963 was held in the Day School with Mrs. W. Stangroom in the chair. 65 members were present and they listened to a talk and film on different types of nursing. After light refreshments, Mrs. Hartley of Holmfirth judged a display of bulbs grown by members. At the next meeting 66 members listened to a talk on “The part played by the Secondary Modern School”. Mrs.Turner gave a report of a Tupperware party and supper held in the home of Mrs.Swallow which raised £3.

There was an excellent attendance for the June meeting when final arrangements were made for the trip to York. Mrs.Pike gave an account of her visit to Russia and the subject by the  guest speaker, Mrs.G.Houghton of Holmfirth, was “Yorkshire Humour”.

At the July meeting, Mrs.W.Stangroom said that members of other local WIs had been invited to the meeting in order to hear the  report on the Annual Conference by Mrs.Mosley who spoke very highly of David Attenborough’s address on ” The Preservation of Wild Life “.  The final item was a talk by Mrs.Mason of Ilkley on cheese making and cheese tasting.

Members at the August meeting stood in silence in memory of Mrs.T.Wyke and Mrs.B.Rodgers who had passed away during the year. Knowing that many members were interested in forming a drama group, Mrs.Elsworth of Wilshaw gave a talk titled ” Producing a Play “. After tea and biscuits three members spoke briefly on their holiday experiences – Mrs.N.Swallow on Germany, Mrs.Allan on Scotland and Mrs.E.Turner on Southern Ireland.

At their first AGM in 1963, Mrs. Creig who had helped in the inauguration of the  branch was the guest. There were 67 members present and Mrs. Stangroom, the President, demonstrated the use of a brass bell which Mrs.A.Wood, the secretary, had presented before she left the district. In the Annual Report, membership had risen from 93 to 117 with four on the waiting list and the average monthly attendance was 70. They had formed a choir, were running a Keep Fit Class and there was an active Produce Guild. The following officers were elected : President – Mrs.Stangroom . Vice-presidents – Mrs.N.Swallow and Mrs. A.Fallas. Treasurer – Mrs.N.Lax. Secretary- Mrs.J.Mosley with assistant secretaries Mrs.A.Alan and Mrs. N.Stephenson. Committee members were Mrs.G.Bailey, Mrs. J.Falkingham, Mrs.Whittaker and Miss B.Brook.

The October meeting was held in their new headquarters at the Zion Methodist School. The November meeting focused on demonstrations of Christmas cookery. Mrs.S.Gledhill and Mrs.H.Lockwood agreed to form a social sub-committee to work in conjunction with the elected committee.

The first meeting in January 1964 saw 70 members listen to a talk by several Yorkshire Electricity personnel titled ” Winter warmth the unit way.” The second Annual party was held in February and took the form of a whist drive, a tasty supper and a fancy dress parade and, if that wasn’t enough, they rounded up the evening with party games and competitions.

The “normal” February meeting occured a few weeks later when 69 members listened to an amusing talk on visits to London by Mrs.R.Mason, the president of Brockholes WI. Prior to the talk, there had been a short business meeting at which Mrs.H.Hobson was elected to attend the County meeting in York. After tea and biscuits members voted for the best exhibit in the bulb display which was won by Mrs.B.Whittaker. Mrs.P.Bray won the competition for the oldest English coin with a half-penny dated 1700 and Miss Hirst, with a coin dated 1745, was the winner  for the oldest foreign coin. They held a very successful coffee evening in March which they combined with a “shilling parcel ” store and a cuttings store which realised a profit of £6 15s 6d. Four members, Mesdames. E.Hobson, A.Fallas, D.Horncastle and Maud Turner delighted the rest of the members with a reading of a one-act play ” A Dish of Tea “.

Not suprisingly there was a good attendance at the April meeting when a Mr.Pickard gave a talk on wine-making with particular emphasis on Port, Sherry and Madeira.  His samples were much appreciated!

60 members attended the June meeting and stood in memory of Mrs.Agnes Smith, a member who had died since the last meeting. Details of the fete to be held in July were discussed. Mr.E.Cole, the drama teacher at Holmfirth Secondary School, spoke on the Gondoliers and brought a party of past and present pupils who had taked principal parts in the opera when it had been staged in March and musical numbers from the opera were given. Mrs.E.Fox read her prize winning essay ” My Society ” and the choir sang items that they had given at the Grimethorpe Rally.

They were very unlucky with the appalling weather conditions on the day of their first fete in July and had to  transfer everything to the Zion School classrooms. Mrs.Jan Mackensie of Oldfield opened the fete and various stalls were very quickly sold out. There was also a fortune teller and a “pennies in the bucket” competition. Teas were served to 160 people after which members of the Thongsbridge Keep Fit Class gave a display. The first part of the evening was a film show of the British Isles by Mr.& Mrs. Allan. Hot dogs met with a steady sale and to round off the evening there was miming to “pop music ” and George Preece gained the prize for his miming of ” You were made for me “. The day’s efforts raised £50 towards the funds.

At the July meeting, members stood in memory of Mrs.E.Lockwood and Mrs.K.Gledhill who had died in a road accident since the last meeting. A demonstration was given by Miss Smith, a representative of a margarine company and members were able to sample various sandwiches.

A team of ambulance men from Huddersfield were the main attraction at the August meeting when they gave a lecture on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation more commonly known as the “kiss of life “. Miss Janet Lax judged the entries for the plain and fancy buns made by the members and awarded the prize for the plain buns to Mrs.Susan Turner and for fancy buns to Mrs.J.Mosley and was herself presented with a spray of roses by Mrs. Stangroom.  There was no information available for the whole of 1965 as the issues of the Express were not put on microfilm.

The first meeting in 1966 was a Whist & Beetle Drive which raised £5 for the ‘Meals on Wheels ‘ services. The MC for the whist was Mrs.E.Hobson and the prizewinners were Miss E.Brammall, Miss M.Wimpenny, Mrs.E.Horncastle, Mrs.L.Woodcock and Mrs.M.Parker. For the beetle drive the MC was Miss E.Parker and the prizewinners were Mrs.P.Bray, Miss Sandra Day, Mrs.M.Robinson, Miss B.Trueman, Mrs.J.Hellawell and Mrs.E.Hart. Prizes were presented by the president, Mrs.N.Lax. February was the occasion of the Annual bulb and handicraft show and Mrs. N.Lax welcomed members from neighbouring WIs. Mr.Smith of Huddersfield Parks Department judged the entries in the flora and plant classes and Mr.Eastwood of Thongsbridge judged the cookery and handicrafts. At the March meeting a film show was given by Mr.Stead of a tour of Norway which was followed by the story of the making of Hovis bread and Robertson’s preserves. All the members present received a free sample of marmalade. The following were elected at the Annual meeting in October 1966. President – Mrs.N.Lax.  Vice – presidents – Mrs.Speake and Mrs. Mosley. Seretary – Mrs.A.Allan. Treasurer – Mrs.J.Hoyle. The committee members were mesdames, P.Bray,A.Fallas, S.Gledhill, E.Hobson, D.Horncastle and Miss Robinson.

At the AGM in November 1967 the following members were elected – President – Mrs.J.Mosely. Vice – Presidents – Mrs.H.Stangroom and Mrs.J.Swallow. Secretary – Mrs.M.Speak, Treasurer – Mrs.J.Hoyle. Committee members were Mrs. Bailey,Horncastle,Hobson, Helliwell, Stephenson and Fallas. Their Christmas Fayre in December gave a profit of £167. Not many of  the WI meetings in the late 1960s and 1970s were reported in the Express. At the March 1968 meeting , Mr.G.Grimwood gave a talk on beautiful gardens of Britain and the winners of the ‘miniature gardens on a dinner plate ‘ competition were Mrs.Zatarski, Mrs. Mosley, Mrs. Bailey and Mrs. Mudd.  Mrs. Kenyon of Denby Dale was the speaker at the June meeting and her subject was ‘Playing, Speaking and Acting’ and to demonstrate she was accompanied by four members of her drama group. The president informed the meeting that the subscriptions for 1969 would be raised to 10/- and that during the month members had visited a nursery garden at Highburton and the Group Rally at Emley. 

The 1971 Christmas Party took the form of a whist drive and social evening. 65 members attended and the games were organised by Mrs.Helliwell and Mrs.Hardy.  Mrs.Hobson ran the whist drive and Mr.Jackson was responsible for the quiz. The evening closed with carols led by Miss Dorothy Shaw  accompanied by Mrs.Shaw. A session of crazy whist was arranged by Mrs.J.Allen at the start of their Christmas party in 1978. Winners were Mrs.Caldwell, Mrs.Hobson, Mrs.Hollis and Mrs.Mosley and after a buffet supper the Second Harmony Group for Netherthong entertained with songs and led the carol singing. Mrs.Joan Henderson presided, Mrs.Hardy won the prize for the best cracker and the yearly prize went to Mrs.Sandford.

Short reports of most of the meetings of the W.I. appeared in the Express during the 70s. They gave the topic/talk of the meetings but little more. I have only included those meetings which were a bit more informative. At the 1972 January meeting Miss Nita Valerie told a large group of members about her life in the theatre and thanks were given by Mrs. Allan. The competition for the oldest programme was won by Mrs. Sykes with an entry dated 1902. 31 members visited Hope in Debyshire in July to see the traditional well dressings- there were three dressings all depicting Biblical scenes and they were made of flowers, petals, leaves, lichen and dried material set in clay. The Group’s monthly meeting was in the form of a flower demonstration by Mrs. Thornton of Honley. A competition for an all-green arrangement was won by Mrs. Hardy. The Autumn Show in October was held in the Day School and there were 142 entries spread over 19 classes. These were Handicrafts ( 3 classes ), Knitting ( 2 classes ), Crochet ( 2 classes ), Plants ( 2 classes ), Floral Art ( 4 classes ), Cookery( 4 classes ), and Preserves ( 2 classes ). Over 60 members and friends were served with afternoon tea.  The winners included Mrs.King, Mrs.Wilkinson, Mrs. Sandford, Mrs. Lawton,  Mrs. Kaye, Mrs. Speak, Mrs. Allan, Mrs. Wilson, Miss Wimpenny, Mrs. Hobson, Mrs. Lockwood, Mrs. Sykes, Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. Hardy, Mrs. Lax, Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Mosely and Mrs. Robinson. The last report for 1972 was for the AGM when highlights of the past year were recalled. Mrs. M.Peak was elected President, Mrs. J.Mosely as Secretary and Mrs. M.Sykes as Treasurer. Entertainment was provided by Mr. & Mrs. D.Ball who played zither music.

The guest speaker at the February 1973 meeting was the chief sub-editor of the Huddersfield Examiner who said that 150 staff were employed to produce 50,000 copies of the paper six days a week. In December 1974, 50 members attended their Christmas Party. Nine young music pupils of Alfred Boothroyd brought their instruments and played some carols and old favourite songs. After a traditional supper, card-bingo was played. Mrs. Dearnley won a competition for a Christmas cracker.

At the AGM in October 1975, Mrs.Hardy was elected president for a further year along with the secretary, Mrs.Parker and treasurer,Mrs.Speak. The elected committee members were Mrs.McKenney, Mrs.Stangroom, Mrs.Mosely, Mrs.Sandford, Mrs.Lyle, Mrs.Hobson and Mrs. Dickinson. All the members were given a report of the autumn Council Meeting at York and afterwards Mrs. Hellawell organised games. Mrs. Parker was elected President at the 1977 AGM. Mrs. McKenna was elected secretary and Mrs.Speak the treasurer.  At the 1978 AGM, Mrs.Margaret Parker , the retiring president, was replaced by Mrs. Jean Hemderson and Mrs. Audrey Allan replaced Mrs. Rita McKenna as the secretary. Mrs.Mary Speak was re-elected as treasurer. The committee members were Mesdames Farrell,Gething,McKenna,Mosley,Pitcher, Sandford and Stangroom. 

There was a well attended meeting in March 1979 when members listened to a talk by a Bailiff Bridge Chemist on Pills and Potions. No free samples !! Afterwards there was an exhibition of unusual bottles.  The following week a party of memberstravelled to Barnsley by coach to see the Town’s amateur operatic society’s production of The New Moon.

After the conclusion of normal business at their meeting in March 1980, Mr.Biltcliffe of Pennine Nurseries gave a long and very interesting demonstration on the making of a bottle garden. The competition for the healthiest plant was won by Mrs. R. Jones with Mrs. J.Henderson and Mrs. Pitcher 2nd. and 3rd. In July Mrs. J.Henderson, president, reported that she had attended the funeral of Mrs. Alice Wilkinson, who had been one of the founding members and the meeting stood for one minute’s silence. Mrs. Lyth, cake, and Mrs.Speak, hanging basket, both took their items to display at the WI stand at the Yorkshire Show, In September, in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the inauguration of the Yorkshire Federation of WIs, the members decided to hold a dinner party on September 18 at the Travellers Rest , Brockholes.

The Women’s Institute held their Spring Show in May 1991 in the J and I School and cooking, flower arranging, handicrafts and photography were all displayed and judged. The photograph shows from left : Audrey Allan, Netherthong WI president, Lynne Clark, secretary Marianne Wilson, Sheila Gledhill and Joyce Rothwell.

WI members at Spring Show May 1991
WI members at Spring Show May 1991

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