The Early Years

The Women’s Institute (WI) is the largest Women’s Membership Organisation in the UK with around 215,000 members with over 6,300 WIs. Whitley WI is one of the largest with almost 80 members.

Whitley WI was founded in 1938; 23 years after the first WI was founded in 1915 in  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch (Llanfair PG!) in Anglesey.

The founding member of Whitley WI was Mrs Suzanne Russell who lived at ‘The Cobbles’, Whitley and a plaque commemorating the occasion is displayed in Whitley Village Hall.

The following is from the first minutes of Whitley WI:

At the first meeting in 1938, 26 ladies were present and enrolled.

Mrs Russell – president, Mrs Brock – vice president, the Cheshire County Organizer, and a committee plus 12 members were present.   17th February 1938 – 45 ladies enrolled at this first main meeting of Whitley WI – a total of 71 members!

Resolutions at WI meetings were a part of meetings 100 years ago are still an integral part of meetings now in 2016.  Meetings still feature a trading table, a competition, teas, a raffle, a social half hour and we also discuss and arrange outings.

AGM Meetings of the WI started in 1917 with the singing of the national anthem; this was changed in 1924 to Jerusalem.

No National Resolutions as no AGM’s took place in 1940 ’41 ’42  or ’44.

In June 1938 the president Mrs Sharpley, ‘the vicar’s wife’, represented Whitley WI at the national conference.

1940 October a collection was made for the ‘Country Women’s Spitfire Fund’, and £2.2.0d was raised.

1941 purchases – Mersey Power Electrical Co were approached for stoves to be installed at the institute in order to make it a real ’fruit preservation centre ‘, so there was no need to use kitchens of members.

1941 Ms Acton from ‘Lyndale’ arranged at a committee meeting on the 3rd April to a discuss fruit preservation scheme in time to obtain a sugar allowance for the soft fruit jamming season; probably 3 cwts.

1941 a notable talk was ‘Gardening in Wartime’ by a speaker from Reasheath.

1942 May Miss Rumney gave a talk on first aid, and two appeals were made at this meeting:

  1. herbs gathering for medicinal purposes; Mrs Brock offered to arrange,
  2. financial help for crippled and sick children’s hospital in Longdon £1.11.6d was collected.

June 1942 members were asked to collect and dry nettles which were very badly needed for medicinal purposes.  Also for dried rabbit skins which were to be used as linings for winter equipment for forces in Russia and for foxglove seeds to be collected and sent to Lymm drying centre.

1943 the charge for the church hall for meetings was 5 shillings (25p).

On the 18th march 1943 Mrs Brock was president when a letter came from Cheshire (CWFI). It stressed the use of cod liver oil and fruit juice for young children and expectant mothers.  Also a competition for a potato recipe was organised; all members were asked to bring at the next meeting a recipe for ‘the most appetising supper dish for 4’ using potatoes.  The winning entry was to be sent to London to be judged by the Ministry of Food.  Whitley WI received a letter from the Duke of Gloucester for their contribution which was sent to the Red Cross and St. John fund.

1944 Mrs Russell was again president and had a garden party and show at The Cobbles.

1944 Mrs George Brock was proposed as a new member by Mrs Bower seconded by Mrs Clarke.

The next committee meeting was at Mrs Skelton’s “Sunset”.

Mrs Duncalf was the wool secretary and arranged for woollen garments and toys to be knitted.

In 1945 after the war, Whitley WI put forward a proposition for a new parish room and raised funds by means of a bazaar to pay for architect’s fees.

1946 Remembrance Day. WI were asked to sing Jerusalem in church.

1948 our founder member Suzanne Russell died.

New members at this time were Mrs Smethurst, of Greenbank Farm, Mrs Neve of Walls Pit House (now Hollow Tree), Mrs R Hough, Mrs D Hough, Mrs Bland and Mrs Clarke. Many of today’s members will remember these names.

Although not a WI member myself until the late 60’s, I have lived in the area for many years and can remember 1943/1944 and after and cycled and walked into Whitley regularly and knew the residents.  Ann Brock, the daughter-in-law of Mrs Brock, is on the Whitley WI committee this year.  Whitley WI has continued the regular monthly meetings – of “an educational and social character – to be held on the first Thursday in each month at 7.30pm in Whitley Village Hall”.


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