Our History

Tredington Women’s Institute.  From its inception to the NFWI Jubilee Year: 1928-1965.

Written in 1965 by ALICE WALTON, which was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Institute. 

Before beginning to tell of the doings of our Institute, we must try and picture our village at the time of its inception.

It was purely agricultural and the farming was being carried on more or less in the quiet slow pace of the big shire horse.  There was none of the noise and rush of the combustion engine.  There were a few infrequent buses which had superseded the village carrier, or the horse and cart of the owners of such luxuries.  There was, of course, no electric light, little indoor water supply or sanitation, the earth closet still providing valuable manure for the allotment and garden, no public telephones, and few private ones.  There was little community life except that provided by the Pub, then practically a  “closed shop” for men, or the Mothers’ Union for women.  Musical tradition still lingered as a heritage from our Welsh rectors of the past but taking it as a whole there was little for the women beyond the daily round and common task of their homes.
The first World War was over, leaving us all poor and drained of materials of all kinds, and the Movement, which started in Wales, was brought into being by these conditions.  Its aims and constitutions were to produce and preserve the food of farm and garden, to foster home crafts and aid rural education, give entertainment and community social life.  It is a democratic constitution with an elected president and committee to carry out the work and wishes of the members, and the only rules that no party politics or sectarian religion be discussed, as these two most controversial subjects might cause members embarrassment.
There were to be monthly meetings with duly kept records, and speakers and demonstrators could be contacted through the panel of speakers provided by the County H.Q. of the Federation.  Having served on this panel for about a year, I saw what a difference to village life it was making, and when County Office suggested a branch being formed in our village I was delighted.  But our birth was not without its pains.  The chief stumbling block was the difficulty of finding a meeting place.  The only one available for such things was the Church School, and the rector at that time disapproved of the movement, and so made the charge prohibitive as we had no funds. However, nothing daunted, we gratefully accepted the kind offer of Mrs Holtom to use the disused bakehouse of the Old Mill.
There was no means of heating nor furniture or equipment for the cup of tea, but one provided an oil stove, another an old carpet to cover the uneven stone floor.  Odd chairs appeared and sacks of meal or potatoes were utilised for seats, and what was there against the old village custom of taking your own cup and saucer? So, after a meeting of the whole village, which unanimously decided to form a branch, on February 13th, 1928, a representative from H.Q. Federation of Women’s Institutes presided over the first meeting and I was elected the first President, with Mrs. Hewins and Mrs. Wilkes Snr., as Vice-Presidents, Mrs. Withey as Secretary, and Committee members, Mesdames Heaton, Berry, Holtom, Hewins, Humphries and Miss Hodges.  Foundation members were Mrs. Summerton, B. King, G. King, Lunnon, W. Lunnon, E. Lunnon, Handcock, Rawlins, C. Rawlins, R. Rawlins, I. King, Bishop and Hollis, a total in all of twenty-three.  The only member who had previous experience was Mrs. Withey, who gave invaluable service as secretary for three years, and was succeeded by Mrs. J. Eden, who held the office for twenty-one years.
Beyond the usual activities inaugurated by the monthly meeting, our chief preoccupation was raising money to build our own Hall.  It was gathered by incredibly small sums by the standards of today.  We traded with a shilling, we went picking blackberries with the added attraction of a picnic tea while doing so.  We grew potatoes, we had Whist Drives and Fetes, with every known small gambling tick.  But the biggest and most important event was a pageant of our own history.
The idea was started by a talk on local history by Miss Mills of Pillerton, who was secretary to the Warwickshire Local History Society, and she gave us most wonderful help.  We enacted four episodes:
  • The burial of a Saxon king reputed to be buried here.
  • A Court Leet in the Middle Ages (chiefly chosen for picturesque head-dress)
  • The arrest of Fox, the founder of the Quakers and denounced by our Rector at that time.
  • Club day in Victorian times, with authentic dresses.
We made all the props and clothes and had two performances on each of two days, and were supported by H.Q. and neighbouring institutes and friends in a marvellous manner.  It was a huge success and the results enabled us to build our own Hall, which was opened by the President of the County Federation on Monday November 2nd, 1931.  Mr. Arthur built the wooden structure measuring 50ft. x 25ft. at a total cost of £270. We then had to equip it, so for some time we were in debt to the bank.  It was the main contribution to the community life made in the first ten years of W.I. in the village.  When I resigned the Presidency in 1938, Mrs. Q. Wilkes was elected to the office until 1948, and we celebrated our coming of age the following year with a wonderful partly at which quite a number of foundation members were present.  I made the cake, which was decorated by our first demonstrator, Mrs. Stevens.
Mrs. Godfrey of Preston became President that year, and held office for four years until 1952, when Mrs. Wilkes again was elected, followed by Mrs Hunt for a year, after which Mrs. Challis became President up to this Jubilee year.  Membership by then had risen to fifty-five, which reflects the growth of the village.
During the first period of Mrs. Wilkes’ term as President the second World War broke out which greatly affected W.I. work, and members were called upon for service of all kinds, and the Hall provided a valuable asset. After the dreadful bombing of Coventry a whole boys’ school was evacuated and arrived one dark evening too late to go to their billets, and so were given shelter and food in the Hall till next morning.  Other war-time activities included co-operative jam-making, and in conjunction with the W.V.S> helped in billeting the people evacuated from the towns, trimmed camouflage nets, practised first-aid, and a hundred and one little jobs, such as collecting and sorting waste paper.
The Hall was used as an auxiliary to the village school for the duration of the war and again later when the population had so increased that the village school was overfull, classes were held there until the new school was built.  This, as well as its use for meetings of all kinds including wedding receptions and flower shows proved that the hope expressed at its opening that the Hall would be of benefit to the whole village life has been fulfilled.
After the war much was done to improve the Hall.  A kitchen with facilities for washing-up and cooking was added, and a small cloakroom and an outside shed for store.  Lighting and heating by electricity was installed, the roof repaired, and general maintenance which had been neglected during the war was now possible, and mainly paid for by an annual rummage sale held in Mrs. Wilkes’ garden, which has become traditional, but now, alas, at an end there, with the moving from the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes.  Beside the routine monthly meeting with talks on a great variety of subjects, classes and demonstrations of all kinds have been held, and subsequent entries into County Competitions with good results, two outstanding ones being a History Scrapbook of our village, and a stall showing members’ craftwork at Whitchford, which gained the silver cup.  We have given a treat to the older inhabitants yearly, consisting of a mystery tour followed by a tea, and another to the patients of the County Mental Hospital.  The sending of flowers and fruit to the members who are going through periods of sickness or sorrow, or joy, to express our sympathy in the crises of life that come to us all, brings a sense of fellowship which is such a valuable thing, and which has always been a great feature of our branch.  We have for many years had a stall of produce at our meetings.
It must not be thought that our energy and thought end with purely local affairs.  We have sent delegates to County and H.Q. annual meetings to take our opinions on wider topics and problems of modern life. Resolutions for these are put to our meetings and voted on by all members, and delegates duly make their reports.
Some of the subjects have brought improvements in such things as public telephones in rural areas; electricity and better public transport; improvements in sanitation and supply of water; improvements in hospital and health services, and the care of the elderly and young being some of them.
The changes in the social structure brought by mechanisation and the coming of radio and T.V. into practically every home have eliminated many activities of the W.I. , chiefly in entertainment by ourselves, and production and preservation of food, but there is still much to be done to meet the needs of country living, especially with the many townspeople who have come to live among us.
It is not only the things we do, but the working and playing together that brings so much pleasure, and there is a job for every member, if it is only to come to the meetings regularly and punctually, and speaking up when some opinion is called for which may help a freer discussion, and so help to make our meetings happy and profitable.
I end this small effort in celebration of our Jubilee Year with the hope that every member may find as much pleasure and help in membership of Tredington W.I. as I have in my period of membership which began when our branch was formed.
Again with all good wishes, I am,
Yours very sincerely,