Down Memory Lane Week 13

WI members celebrating their group's 90th anniversary with a special party.

How the WI got started

'It won't last long without a man to run it .......'

That's what a man said about plans in 1897 to start the Women's Institute in Canada, the forerunner of the British WI. Happily his misogynist comment was ignored.

It was a Canadian woman who had the modest idea to set up regular meetings for ordinary women to get together (with their husband's permission!)  in people's  front parlours,  kitchens or even garden sheds to talk about things that mattered, and the consequence was to change the world!

Today the British WI is sometimes mainly remembered for its jam and Jerusalem image, its members stripping off for the sensational Calendar Girls and, more recently, the slow handclapping of Prime Minister Tony Blair at its 2,000 national AGM.  But these incidents are, of course, just a few edited highlights!

Over the past century the WI has achieved great things, playing a major role in both World Wars, spearheading campaigns in support of social and environmental change, and getting behind hundreds of other important causes.

Edna Healey, wife of Dennis Healey, summed up the attributes of the WI in this way: 'It is a movement possessing more combined wisdom, expertise  and knowledge than exists in all the corridors of power'.

Today there are over 200,000 members in branches across Britain.

The Bishop Monkton branch was formed in 1927, and members recently celebrated the group's 90th birthday - and now look forward to its centenary.

Below we relate the story how the local branch was formed in 1927, and give details of some of its major achievements in the intervening years......

Bishop Monkton Women's Institute

A village institution which has flourished for over 90 years

The Women's Institute has flourished in Bishop Monkton for over 90 years and has brought interest, pleasure and fulfilment to generations of village women. Read below about the early days of the WI, how it built a community hall for £550, how it kept the home fires burning in the war, how it made a huge contribution to the creation of our new Village Hall and how it is facing the future.


The old WI Hall which served the village 

well between 1932 and 2004 when it was demolished.

Ruth Martin, then WI President, presents a cheque for £145,000 raised from the sale of the WI Hall, to Mervyn Beecroft to help finance  the building of the new Village Hall.


The year Bishop Monkton WI was formed. What was happening in the WI world that year? 

Once the war was over the newly formed WIs began to concentrate on planning programmes of activities to suit their members.

The new organisation attracted members from the Lady of the Manor, to her housemaid and cook, from the local shop keeper to the wife of the farm labourer, working together in the WI helped to break down the social barriers between countrywomen who had rarely met together in the past. Women had now received the vote (at least for those over 30) and  the NFWI was anxious to encourage women to become active citizens.

Within villages the local WIs brought together communities in a way not done before. They organised parties, fetes, ambitious outdoor pageants - all events in which all could participate.

Home and Country, the national magazine, reported in 1927 that there were 3,997 WIs and approx 250,000 members. In Yorkshire there were 95 WIs in the North Riding, 41 in the West Riding and 38 in the East Riding, all joined to the Yorkshire Federation with its HQ in York.

At the 11th Annual General Meeting held in the Queen's Hall, Langham, Place, London on May 31/June 1, 1927,, Bishop Monkton WI would have sent a delegate  Resolutions included:

This meeting urges the Ministry of Agriculture to improve and extend the provision of such special education for women as shall fit them for the women's side of indoor and outdoor farm life in this country and overseas.

There were other resolutions debated on Girls Leaving School., Women Overseas, Oil Pollution, Preservation of Rural England and Safety of Roads.

In a report in Home and Country wrote about WIs in Yorkshire and what was going on at some of their meetings, This included:

  • Weekly dressmaking classes partly funded by the Country Council.
  • Campaigning to get a village nurse.
  • Making a maternity outfit for the district nurse to give a needy pregnant woman.
  • Play readings.
  • Making felt slippers for schoolchildren so that when they walked to school on a wet day they did not have to sit in wet shoes.
  • Dressing dolls to give children in the local hospital.
  • Talking care of the newly erected village war memorial.
  • A course in butter making.



1927   and what was happened in that year   in the wider world? 

  • King George V on the throne.
  • Stanley Baldwin was Conservative Prime Minister.
  • First trans Atlantic telephone call.
  • First trans Atlantic flight by Lindbergh.
  • BBC granted a Royal Charter..
  • Malcolm Campbell land speed record 174.2 mph.
  • Joe Davis won the first snooker championship.
  •  Wilfred Rhodes was first person to score 1,000 runs in t first--class cricket.
  • Cardiff City won the FA Cup Final against Arsenal.
  • Labour Party voted to nationalise Coal Industry.
  • Soviet Union executed 20 Britons for alleged espionage.
  • The first traffic lights.
  • The first double-decker bus.
  • 1,000 people a week die from 'flu.
  • Winds of 112 mph kill 23 people.
  • Wilf Fyffe plays I Belong to Glasgow.
  • I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with The Prince of Wales.
  • Published this year was Agatha Christie's The Big Four.
  • New film was Alfred Hitchcock's Story of a London Fog.
  • Ireland became a free State.
  • Born in 1927: Ken Russell, Roger Moore, Ken Dodd.
  • Average wage for an agricultural labourer was £1 11s 8d for a 50-hour week.


The above items about Bishop Monkton WI were extracted from a splendid album which was produced to mark the group's 90th anniversary.