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The Fernhurst Society

Memories of Fernhurst: Women’s Institute

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What could be more fitting than to remind ourselves of the ideals and aims of the Women’s Institute as did the Hon Mrs Colvin at the first meeting in Fernhurst on 22 September 1920. In a forthright and stirring speech she said that ‘institute really means club’, the gathering together of all women, in all walks of life, in and around the neighbourhood of the village. The badge that WI members wear symbolises Canada, the starting place by the maple leaf and the rose for England, for home and country. All meetings, she said, must be friendly and we must remember that the WI is a national institution.

After this first meeting the interest grew and a second meeting was held in the Village Hall in October to enrol members. Mrs Colvin’s address was read to the meeting and 77 people became members. As these pages are reminiscent, we record the first Officers and Committee.

President: Mrs Salvin
Vice presidents: Mrs Hollist, Miss Lindsay, Mrs Smith
Treasurer: Miss Punch
Hon Secretary: Mrs Watson
Committee 12: representatives of the village people who were to be responsible for entertainment, music, recreation and games were: Miss Jones, Miss Hill, Mrs Chase, Mrs Bousey, Mrs Mills, Mrs Voller, Mrs Silver, Miss Tudor, Miss Snooker, Mrs Ralph, Mrs Ohlenschlager. The committee resolved to carry the meeting through themselves without help from headquarters, the committee giving the tea.

So began Fernhurst Women’s Institute and as these pages are a collection of memories, it does seem that outstanding activities of the first year should be remembered, thus showing how the pattern has developed to form Fernhurst WI as we know it in 1958. At the November meeting 17 new members were enrolled and besides a demonstration of basket making there was a show and sale of home made and home grown articles. Tea was charged at 2d each. December’s meeting recorded six new members making the total membership to be 100 at the third meeting. There was a lecture on citizenship and pictures and photographs by local artists. A new committee was formed in January 1921 and the officers remained the same as at the commencement. It is interesting that the treasurer had £11.11s.0d in hand. Mrs Dickenson offered her hut for the use of the committee for meetings and promised that it should be heated and comfortable.

A very ambitious programme seems to have been drawn up including dancing, lecturers on sick nursing and classes on rush basketry.

A Christmas club was first suggested and a baby show to take place in the summer. Six tea hostesses were chosen and we must not forget that there were six new member. February reported that the tea committee were 5/- to the good, owing to gifts for firing and washing. A large teapot and table-cover were purchased from the 5/-. A committee was appointed to be responsible for the stoves and for bringing the oil in turns.

We now come to March and the stove was giving much trouble, so another committee was formed to collect wood. At this meeting the members were reminded that a delegate must be chosen to attend the AGM in London in May. April seems to have been a busy meeting. Miss Teveson was to give a paper flower demonstration, if the buses were running. A detailed notice of the baby show to be held in May was ready and caused quite a stir, great interest was also taken in the formation of Drama and choral clubs, 26 names were entered at the beginning. Miss Smith was chosen to have the honour of being the first delegate to the AGM at Westminster and she was given her instructions on how to vote. In May, alas, the postponement of the baby show was discussed, and at this meeting the Choral and Drama Clubs had to pay a contribution of 6d per year to the Treasurer.

The year goes by and in June Miss Smith gave her report of the AGM which she attended in May. The meeting was held at Ashurst and no doubt the report would initiate the members present to many new WI activities. The committee meeting which was held in the chapel records the following interesting item: members who joined in 1920 Oct, Nov, and Dec should pay 2/6, 2/4, 2/- and members who join in 1921 and having paid 2/- shall receive credit at 2d per month for unexpired membership. This is certainly unusual.

The first public effort of the WI was held this month at Hawksfold by permission of Mrs Dickenson. A rummage stall was run by Miss Hill with Miss Punch (Provisions), Mrs Watson (Needlework), Miss Dickenson (Catering). All profits went to the Cottage Hospital.

The train service caused alterations in plans, Mrs Dengate could not give her talk and a delegate could not attend the council meeting at Horsham in July. Once again the baby show comes forth and a provisional date was fixed for August, providing the doctors were in favour of that date. So the year goes along. For August Mrs Lacy was to give a talk on ‘The Uselessness of Worry’ and asked that she might have hospitality, this was very readily given.

The Drama and Choral Groups were working, but they did not feel sufficiently practiced to help the Cricket Club with their effort in September, they were afraid their standard would be lowered. The teas seem to have been a source of worry this month and Miss Punch urged that better business habits should be used over the management of the teas, so it was decided again to charge 2d and 6d for a visitor to be obtained at the door. In this September we learn of Mrs Dickenson using a car to help with transport to the group meeting in Midhurst.

And so we have travelled a year since Fernhurst commended its WI, much organisation has taken place and cultural activities enjoyed, to be slowly developed until the present time with the company of enthusiastic and able presidents and officers, who are chosen by their fellow members.

Quite outstanding early talks are dancing, illustrated in grandmothers’ dresses by the Misses chandler, Millinery demonstration by Miss Gibson, what a difference from a similar demonstration now, exhibition of patchwork from all over the country by Mrs and Miss Salvin, talks on Sussex by Miss Lucy Salvin, demonstration of umbrella covering by Miss Collins, Miss Silver and Mrs Watson, actually recovered their umbrellas at a cost respectively of 6/- and 8/-. What a worthwhile craft!

An early entertainment of the Drama and Choral Clubs was successfully given before an audience of 120. They produced scenes from The Merchant of Venice, which was greatly appreciated. Miss Boyd was the producer.

It was recorded in 22.2.51 that the following work had been achieved by the WI through representation to the proper authorities:

A water tap in the cemetery
The seat at the bus stop
Resumption of cheap day tickets to London
Bus to connect with visiting hours at the hospitals
Electric lighting at the school
Modern sanitation at the school
Arrangements for bringing medicine to the village
Clearing and levelling behind the Village Hall
Removal of unsightly electricity transformers from the centre of the village.

Apart from this, Fernhurst WI have as members operated a market stall, a pie centre, a jam centre, a canning club and sales for the hospital. The pie centre during the war was an enormous success and it is estimated that 864,000 pies were sold in Fernhurst and the surrounding district.

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The Fernhurst Oral History Project was supported by the Local Heritage Initiative. The Local Heritage Initiative was developed by the Countryside Agency and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Nationwide Building Society.