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Pirton Women's Institute

This article is included by courtesy of the Pirton Magazine, where it was first published in May/June 2001 and the authoress Clare Baines  

In 1941 Pirton joined the National Federation of Women's Institutes and became part of the largest national charity for women. The WI was started at Stoney Creek Ontario, Canada by a Mrs Adelaide Hoodless. One of her children had died and she blamed herself for her ignorance of hygiene. She therefore set up classes in domestic science to help other local women and that was the beginning.  

The idea spread and the first WI in the UK was founded in 1915 at Llanfairpwll, Anglesey. Within four years, 1405 Institutes had been formed, County Federations set up and the organisation became independent. With its aim to improve and develop the quality of life for women and their families in rural areas and, being non-political and non- sectarian, the WI grew and was soon very much part of the life of many villages.

However if was not until 1941 that Pirton became a member. Readers will perhaps wonder what prompted this move. It was JAM (but not Jerusalem)

In 1940 the NFWI began to administer the Ministry of Food's fruit preservation scheme. The sugar ration did not allow housewives to make their own preserves, but the harvest of fruit in orchards and gardens could not go to waste. Therefore the Ministry of Food released extra supplies of sugar so that jam could be made within communities. The NFWI had the contacts and the organisation. In Pirton, Mrs Martineau who lived at Pirton Court and was involved with the Hertfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes, set up the operation. People took their surplus plums to the Village Hall and were paid the set rate and then teams of volunteers made the jam. What a hive of industry! It was weighing, preparing and stirring the pans, others were occupied filling jars, tying down and labelling. I am not sure of the marketing process but some was sold locally and the rest sold through the County. From this community effort the WI was born. In November 1941 an inaugural meeting founded Pirton WI. Mrs Martineau became the first President; she conducted the meetings in the set WI manner- business, a speaker followed by refreshments and social time. A simple competition added extra interest.

We follow the same format today. Every year a programme of varied talks, competitions and social events is arranged. We have covered almost every subject; travel, wild life, cookery demonstration, interesting jobs and experiences, with crafts and flower arranging often featured. Music, poetry reading and unusual collectibles have held our interest. Sometimes we fill the hall with laughter, at other times we are greatly moved to learn about the many disadvantaged people in the world.

There have been so many memorable events which have given us enjoyment: coach trips to stately homes, lovely gardens and working factories, theatre outings and tours of London. We have visited the bulb fields in Lincolnshire and Holland, Chelsea Flower Show and nearer to home, The Rose Gardens. 1965 was the Golden Jubilee of the NFWI. Pirton marked this event by presenting the seat on Little Green to the village. Our scrapbook was compiled and Mrs Maud Walker, the President at the time attended the Royal Garden Party given by the Queen for the Federation. Parties and socials spring to mind. At one time we always went to The Great North Road Hotel at Knebworth (now gone forever) for Xmas dinner. It was unlicensed so we took our own sherry. We now book at a local pub. Giving tea parties to groups of the physically and mentally handicapped was hard work, but rewarding. Before the Pumpkin Club was formed we had parties for Pirton pensioners.

Carol singing in aid of Cancer Research was another annual event. It was often very cold, but bottles of sherry sustained our efforts. Of later years we joined up with our friends from the Pumpkin Club. We always try to support village projects, and we have taken part in flower festivals both at St Mary's and the Methodist Church. The Flower Show was always special for us. In 1951 we depicted the Edwardian Era at the Hitchin Pageant and more recently we were the Straw Plaiters in the pageant at the Bury Picnic.

With our neighbouring WI's we form a group with one or two meetings a year and often an outing. Delegates attend County meetings as well as the National conferences when Jerusalem is always sung. This year our delegate travels to Cardiff. Resolutions for these meetings are discussed and voted upon at the monthly meetings. The NFWI campaigns for many issues concerning the welfare of women and their families and is a voice to be heard. We have our own centre of adult education, Denman College at Oxfordshire. Several Pirton members have attended courses there and come back full of enthusiasm for the Denman Experience. We keep in touch with events both in Hertfordshire and the UK through our Newsletters and Home and County Magazine.

Pirton WI have held many fund raising events and we would like to say thank you to our families, friends and members of the public who have supported us. Membership has given many things - flowers at our birthday, a visit and gift when ill, the opportunity to learn and perfect different crafts and skills, but perhaps the most lasting, a bond of friendship and mutual support. New members are always most welcome, why not come along? You will have an interesting evening.

Come along and join us!


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