Settling Into A Village Routine (21 March 1975)
Galley Hill Women’s Institute have celebrated their first anniversary. Nothing much in that, some might say. But wait a minute.
Commonly a WI is a village institution, but Galley Hill is a new city housing estate. And commonly a village is a place where most people have known most other people all their lives, but a new housing estate is a place where most people have known most other people only a very short time indeed. The Galley Hill WI, therefore, is remarkable both in conception and execution.
It apparently proceeds on the usual unostentatious WI lines, including guest speakers, monthly competitions with a cup for the year’s over-all winner, and all that sort of thing. Yet its success is highly significant. It indicates a settling-in and also a speedy adaptation to a village-type neighbourliness.
So, good luck to you, Galley Hill, and may you enjoy many more sausage and mash anniversary suppers as you go ahead with your home-making tips and other efforts towards building Jerusalem in Milton Keynes.
Probably the oldest WI hereabouts – though I cannot speak for the whole area – is that at Water Eaton, which, according to my reckoning is 50 years old this year. How it was formed may be worth telling.
For a start a preliminary meeting was organised by Mrs Laura Clifton, of Mill Road, whom many old Eatonians remember with affection. Twenty-five potential members – the minimum number required to form an institute – attended the meeting at the old George Inn, and were addressed by a Mrs Woodgate and a Mrs Disraeli from the Bucks executive. It was then agreed to start an institute.
The inaugural meeting, complete with the inevitable cup of tea, was held in the old disused Water Eaton School which stood on the site of the present Coronation Hall, and which Mr Hedley Clarke had offered to the WI rent-free for a year.
For the meeting pews were borrowed from the little Methodist chapel nearby. Crockery was also borrowed from there and the water was boiled in Mrs Clifton’s kitchen across the way.
Mrs Bennitt, wife of the then Rector of Bletchley, was elected president and Mrs Clifton secretary. Treasurer was Mrs W.H. Gurney, of Sycamore Farm, who remained an officer for the next 25 years.
At the beginning the only other non-political, non-sectarian association in the village was the cricket club. The WI membership fee of two shillings meant a real sacrifice on the part of some folk to join this second organisation as well.
For the first meeting the committee of ten stood in the small kitchenette attached to the school and one of their first resolutions was to purchase six dozen chairs and after that some crockery.
Money for this was raised by whist drives and socials. Among male helpers was Mr W.H. Gurney, who happily is still with us. The events were well supported by the villagers and within a few weeks members were sitting on their own WI chairs and drinking from their own WI cups, tea made in their own WI kettle and teapot.
The WI and the cricket club worked well together helping to run each other’s socials and dances. And when the Coronation Hall was built in 1937 it became the home of both. The cricket club did not survive the 1939-45 war, although it had achieved local fame in its time.
The WI did manage to survive, however. During the war, the hall was requisitioned by the military for billeting, and the WI made shift by limiting membership to 50 and moving to the Methodist chapel – back to the pews they had originally borrowed. Apart from that period the WI has held its meetings practically on the same spot all its time.
During the war many members became engulfed in Red Cross evacuation and other “home front” activities, but a little group kept the WI banner flying by knitting socks for village boys in the forces. The banner had been designed by Mrs Bennitt in the first year and did duty up to 1952. Today the WI is a village organisation matched in size only by the Evergreens old people’s club.
The WI movement is not of ancient origin. It started in Canada and it is only a few years since the national federation in this country celebrated its jubilee. Latterly there have been suggestions that WIs have had their day and even that they are becoming old women’s clubs. Certainly there is now much competition from other women’s organisations, but these are mainly devoted to particular interests.
Moreover, the WI movement, with its county and national resolutions, presents a weight of non-party opinion which no legislature can afford to ignore. As for the “old women” charge – I will leave it to Galley Hill to answer that!