Penybont and District Local History Group 7th March 2016 – Thomas Shop Main Topic: History of the Women’s Institute Speaker: Liz Watkins

Geraint welcomed another full house and in particular Lyn Danby, as a newcomer, to the Meeting. Lyn is living in Bill Bayliss’s former house having moved (run away) FROM Port Talbot. She has a background in research.

Derek read something silly from the Ladybird Book on Mindfulness!

Geraint welcomed Liz Watkins who has supported the WI in the area for many years.

Liz explained that she had had a number of challenges in preparing her talk. The minutes of Penybont WI are held in Powys Archives; the Llandegley Minutes are more scattered. Penybont and Crossgates joined forces for a period but then split up again over concerns about the loo.

The origins of the WI Movement

A set of unfortunate circumstances brought together two people who in turn set up the first meeting in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

Adelaide Hoodless (nee Hunter) came from a farming background and was the youndest of yhirteen children. Her father died when she was a few months old, and her mother was left to run the farm and a very large household. Perhaps it was the hard work and isolation on this farm that inspired her to take up the challenge of domestic reform later in life! Adelaide attended a Ladies College where she met and married John Hoodless (a furniture manufacturer) and she lived in Ontario. The couple had four children but tragedy struck when her youngest child died suddenly, probably having drunk contaminated milk. As a result of this Adelaide established Domestic Science courses to educate young women, while also giving talks to women’s groups. At one of these talks she met Erland Lee who would be her partner in establishing the first WI.

Erland Lee was a Canadian Farmer, teacher, and government employee. He was secretary of the Young Farmer’s Institute. It was their Annual Ladies Night. Adelaide was the guest speaker for the evening. It was Erland who suggested that a Women’s Institute similar in form to the Young Farmers might be set up. A week later, on the 19th February 1897, 101 rural Canadian women agreed to create a Women’s Institute. The movement brought women from isolated communities and homesteads together and offered training in home economics, child care, and those aspects of farming that were traditionally associated with women. E.g. poultry rearing; and small farm animal husbandry.

From the first meeting in 1897 it would be another 18 years before the first WI meeting would be held in Great Britain. In 1915 the movement had progressed in Canada with 800 groiups having been formed.

A Canadian, Mrs Madge Watts, joined the WI in 1909 and was appointed unto the Committee of Agriculture to encourage the formation of WI’s. This led to the movement obtained offial recognition in 1911. Madge, having lost her husband, brought he two sons to England in 1913 to finish their education. She set about trying to enthuse others about the benefits of the WI but found it an uphill struggle. However with the outbreak of War in 1914 women began to see the benefits of working together to sustain communities and to grow food. Madge attended lots of meetings organised by the Agriculture Organisation Committee (AOS), and even then there was a feeling that the women felt that their husbands would not approve of them joining a Women’s organisation. The activities of the Suffragettes did not help with the development of the this kind of women’s initiative. Before one of the meetings Madge spoke to Colonel Stapleton-Cotton of the AOS, was a relative of Lady Angelsey. Madge had talked to a group of ladies on Angelsey who were really interested in starting a WI group on the Island. On the 11th September 1915 the first WI group met on Llanfair PG.

The WI in Radnorshire

New Radnor and District was the first WI to meet in Radnorshire. Its first meeting was held on the 19th January 1918. The District of New Radnor included Old Radnor, Kinnerton, and Llanfiangel nat Melan. Mrs Duff Gordon, later Lady Duff, was President; Miss McKaig was Honorary Secretry and Treasurer. At this Meeting it was decided that the Annual Subscription should be 2 shillings (10p).

Early records show an enquiry about hiring a cheese press, 30 -40 gallon cheese tub and one milk churn to hold 40 gallons. Cheese making must have been successful as it was passed by the members.

Home economics, home nursing, renovating old garments and talks on the importance of vaccination were some of the topics covered during the meetings.

Unfortunately records for this WI were lost and this information was taken from the 75th Anniversary WI Book.

Old Radnor went on to open their own WI in 1921 and Kinnerton in 1940.

Peny Penybont and District / Crossgates WI

Penybont and District / Crossgates WI was formed in 1928 with 53 members, 18 on the Committee. At the front of the first record book are the names and addresses of all the members.

The meetings were held alternatively between Penybont and Crossgates and had demonstrations and and competitions much as is done today .The Committee Meetings were held in the Iron Room at Penybont.

In 1933 the following was proposed and carried unanimously:

“We the President and members of the above Institute do unanimously request the Post Master General to hasten the fulfilment of his scheme of installing a telephone kiosk at Llandegley which was published 2½  years ago. We consider that this particular District is in urgent need of it, seeing that there is no kiosk or Post Office between Penybont village and New Radnor, a district of 9 miles.”

In 1941 it was decided to hold future Committee Meetings alternatively between Crossgates and Penybont.

In 1942 it was decided to treat 70 of the patients from the Military Hospital in Llandrindod Wells to tea on Wednesday 17th September, Secretary to secure transport.

During the War members started a canteen for the troops who were at Battle School Camp on the Common.

They had a flourishing Drama Group and Choir, both of which helped various Charities.

Llandegley WI

The formation of Llandegley WI was held in the school on the 21st January 1860 at 7.30 p.m.

In spite of a heavy snow storm there were 11 prospective members present as well as Miss A Davies VCO who gave a brief history of the WI.

The resolution to form a WI was drawn up, names of those present placed on ballot papers for the election of Committee at the next meeting.

The weather deteriorated and the meeting closed. Next Meeting was to be held on the 17th February. Due to continuing inclement weather the 2nd meeting did not take place until the 11th March when a letter from Lady Dyer, President of the NFWI was read. Mrs Morgan VCO explained the duties of committee members and members were duly elected. Olive Waters, President; Vices – J Bufton and Mrs Dixon; Committee – Mrs Abberley, Mrs J Bufton, Mrs P Bufton; Mrs Dixon; and Mrs Lawrence. Note – Age of joining was set at 13 years.

One of the first issues discussed at their next meeting was the rural inn service – how inadequate it was!

The membership fee was 3 shillings and 6 pence.

Juniors – 12 and upwards – to be admitted on payment of an annual subscription of 1 shilling until they reached the age of 16 years.

Events and Achievements of the WIs locally

Children’s Party Penybont

These were held annually in the School Room at the Chapel in Penybont and there could be anything up to 50 children. It did not happen during the war and in 1989 when the Chapel was demolished as part of the building of a new bridge over the Ithon. With the loss of the schoolroom the parties became ‘nomadic’.

Friendship evenings were regular and they gave ‘famously good suppers’.

Members did a survey of field names and surveys of local graveyards, and indeed they won the ‘Best kept Graveyard’ competition.

Charity work was a force behind creating a local community and the resources needed to sustain this.

Trips and outings were also regular features and members present remembered the abundance of skylarks and buzzards. Neil had taken a lot of photos on the Llandegley outings and there was concern how he might have become a member. His Grandmother who was heavily involved might have had her hands full in keeping him in order.

Current Position

Small group in Llandegley

Penybont finished about 15 years ago

Active group in Dolau

Crossgates have just started with between 20 and 30 members.

Drama still plays a prominent part in the activities of the WI locally. This year a Panto will be performed at the Albert Hall in Llandrindod entitled Robin of Radnorshire. This has been written by Gill from the Garden Centre.

Last year the WI celebrated 100 years in Wales and the UK. Representatives went to Beaumaris on Anglesey, and 2 people went to Buckingham Palace. The journey to the Palace had its challenges with people needing to change their clothes at Reading Station.

WI introduced the canning machine during the war and were canning all manner of fruit.

Neil wondered what the difference was between the WI and the Mother’s Union. Geraint explained that the Mother’s Union was set up in the 1870s to support young women of the Parish. It has more of a religious, and charity focus, wanting to provide support and education to the child-rearing young mothers from poor backgrounds. It spread all over the world thanks largely to the wives of Service Personnel. Probably needs another talk sometime in the future.

There was a question about the WI banners and where was the Penybont one. It was thought that it might be in the Hall. There are about 50 Banners in Radnorshire.

The WI are also a Campaigning Organisation and lobby Government on issues voted on at a local level and taken to national meetings. This work has been very important in social reform over the years.

Geraint thanked Liz for her excellent talk and on supporting a very useful discussion.

Next Meeting will be on the 4th April and will cover the Archaeology of the Walton Basin led by Marion.

Marion reminded us of the upcoming talk on Islam to be held in New Radnor Village Hall on the 6th April.