Portrait of a Parish - Page 31

Women's Institute (W.I.)

The first WI in the British Isles was founded in 1915 and, within ten years the initiative taken to start a group in Monkton Combe was probably made by Miss Eva Scott, a companion to the Misses Harrison who lived in nearby Waterhouse. The first meetings were held in the village schoolroom for which there was no hire charge, other than that of two shillings and three pence paid for heat and light - one shilling and sixpence if only light was used. Each member paid sixpence so that crockery could be bought and this was hired out at a halfpenny per cut and saucer, proceeds spent on increasing the stock. The crockery was moved to the new village hall in 1928, which was opened thanks to the support of the Rev. Percy Warrington and Captain Vaughan-Jenkins.

This accommodated Institute meetings at a cost of five shillings per large meeting; no charge for the committee. The Institute continued to grow and thrive, although its future looked doubtful at the outbreak of World War Two. Numbers dropped as some members undertook full time war work, but the remaining stalwarts made many contributions to the war effort - growing and preserving produce, jam making, knitting, supporting evacuees and constantly raising money. In the mid 40s the hall was taken over as an ARP and rest centre and made much use of at the time of the Beidecker raids on Bath, when members met alternately at two of the larger houses in the village.

During the 50s, membership reached its peak. For example in February 1952, 54 members were present and 6 apologies were received. Yet more crockery was needed! In March 1952 at the culmination of two years work by members, the first patchwork curtains were put up (the present curtains, made by WI members and other people from the village, were put up in October 1983).

The second half of the century saw considerable changes in membership, both in numbers and catchment area, for as more people owned cars, the village became accessible to those further afield. Indeed, at present the majority of members are from Combe Down or beyond. In 1998 we were saddened when an elderly disabled member had to withdraw her membership because she could no longer get into the hall. Motivated by this, we raised and donated 500, largely from the publication and sale of a book of local walks, towards the construction of a more user-friendly path and acquired a wheelchair for use by disabled visitors using the hall.

We were proud when one of our members, Gwen Garner, was commissioned by the National Federation to write the history of the WI and the book "Extra Ordinary Women" was published in 1995. The Millennium also saw the 75th anniversary of our Institute. Nationally, the WI had one of its 1999 resolutions aimed at the support of the nation's farmers, and with this in mind, we chose to celebrate our birthday by arranging a lunch using only local produce. The guest of honour was the national Chairman and the event gained wide local news coverage, promoting the WI in general, Monkton Combe in particular, and most of all, our local farmers.

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