Sheena Murray and Caroline Crompton have been busy reading and cataloguing the Abberley WI archive. Here Sheena shares some fascinating stories of the things they’ve found in the records from 1940 onwards:
Abberley WI minutes and records are written formally with repeated attention to detail of where the meetings take place, who was in the chair, who was on the various social committees. Mention is made of occasional interest in local resolutions but with no detail.
A monthly newsletter is sent to the WIs from Worcester and this is read at each Committee meeting and each Monthly meeting if it contains anything deemed of interest, hardly anything is ever recorded from these letters.
Notice of occasional classes or events taking place from Worcester (Worcester Federation of Women’s Institutes- WFWI), such as the Council Meeting at Shire Hall or the Annual Council Meeting in London of the National Federation of WIs-NFWI are recorded and local members begin to attend these as more during the 1950s.
Members in 50s and 60s were young. For example, in 1964 Mrs Whiteman (?Margaret) wrote a thank you letter for acknowledgement of the birth of her son. Mrs Bevan was also busy having her sons in the early years of their being in Abberley.
A lot of notice is taken of the Woodbury Group meetings, social evening between certain local WIs and as many as 8 members attend those twice a year and frequently 2 members from Abberley will be invited to a special meeting of neighbouring WIs such as Rock, Pensax, Heightington or Great Witley and vice versa.
Talks and Social half hours
They enjoy talks on a variety of subjects, educational – flower arranging, cooking, canning sewing, quilting and invariably 6 week classes evolve from these talks, from which members will put on a fashion show of the garments they have made. During the 1940s/50s the WI buy and own a sewing machine that later they plan to hire out to cover the ‘overhauls’. Buying the canning machine, post war, also involved learning how to can fruit and vegetables but the process was slow due to the rationing of sugar into the early 1950s. They also enjoyed informative talks such as two given by Lady Sandys on Russia and China or from representatives from WFWI or NFWI.
Following the business meeting and the talk, the Social Half Hour -SHH- took place, bingo, short whist, quiz or a short play and the judging of the monthly competition, how many items in a match box, a cake or flower arrangement. Members were awarded points for these competitions with an overall winner, 2nd and 3rd at the end of the year. Plus the monthly raffle.
There were also frequent Whist Drives, Beetle Drives and smaller money raising ideas for WI funds and their Sick Fund . Members often wrote ‘to the Sick fund’ in appreciation of a gift when they were ill.
Public Information Films from the Central Office of Information were frequently shown during the post war years.
The ladies of the 1940s and 50s also did a lot of fund raising. They rose to the challenge of running an event to contribute towards the costs of the new Denman College and sent £10. They also put on socials, dances to raise funds for the Worcester hospital (£10) and many other things for which they made large sums of money. For these their husbands would help, being ‘on the door’ and helping set up.
The people of the early 50s had stamina – at one social fund raising event the evening included a meal in the early evening, followed by a concert for an hour and a half, followed by a dance that began at 10pm and would finish by 1am! Members of the public could buy tickets for the whole event or parts of the evening.
Response to rural issues
The branch often discussed issues affecting their rural lives. In May 1967, the branch declared themselves in favour of 4 resolutions to be put forward to the National Federation AGM and were more circumspect about the 5th. Two in particular, relating to health service provision in rural areas are particularly important, even today:
Resolution 2: Care of Elderly Relatives.
The branch voted in favour but against the amendment [we don’t know what this was]… “That this meeting urges all WI members to press for the provision of more ‘Day Hospitals’, Day Centres and ancillary services, thus enabling old members of the family to share the home without undue hardship and stress for the younger generation.”
and resolution 5: Dispensing should be done by Chemists.
The branch were circumspect about whether or not to approve of this resolution before hearing the wider debate. The minutes note: “…we were ‘rather in favour’ of doctors doing it but would leave it to our delegates discretion, as it was felt that there might be a lot of discussion on this topic…This meeting urges the Government to re-consider its proposals to limit dispensing by doctors in rural areas.”
In discovering this entry, Sheena wrote, ‘I just like the way that is put, considering the doctor continuing to dispense would have been fairly important to these members in relation to the distance of the nearest chemist.’
Download this pdf for more Notes from the minute books 1940-1969