Jam in the sponge but not so much Jerusalem

Up until I was invited to an evening event my only knowledge of the Woman’s Institute was what was contained in the film ‘Calendar Girls’. I cannot recall much of that except I do remember scenes of John Alderton with a bald head, wondering if he was paid extra to have his head shaved, and also some large iced buns with cherries and no that is not an euphemism! Not knowing much about the WI I thought I would do a bit of Googling and that is not a euphemism either. Some of it is quite interesting.

The movement was started in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada, by Erland and Janet Lee with Adelaide Hoodless being the first speaker in 1897. Strange that it should be founded by a man and a woman because as the WI puts it there is only one qualification to be a member of the WI and that it you must be a Woman. The WI started in the UK in 1915, so it is over 100 years old, and the first meeting was in Anglesey in 1915. A couple of years later the National Federation of WI’s was set up and according to the NFofWIs website it was led by ladies mainly involved in the Suffrage movement.

Now there is some confusion in my mind about the use of the song Jerusalem by the WI and this confusion is reflected on the WI website. On the history of the WI the website suggests that the song was ‘specially composed for the WI’ whereas on another part of the website it says that the use of the song came as a result of a letter to the membership magazine in 1824 suggesting that it was sung at the then upcoming Annual Meeting. Whatever the history, it is synonymous with the WI and was actually a poem by William Blake published in 1804, put to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 and the version that we are used to hearing, especially at the last night of the proms, was orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar.

I am unable to find out when the WI started in Shottisham but I have found that it must have existed around 1928 when Sir Anthony Quilter and his mother gave three early cottages in trust to the WI. These are at the beginning of the road into the village and were converted into what became known at the WI Trust Hall. They were given to be a meeting place of the WI and for Shottisham residents to use for social and education purposes. The WI are responsible for the upkeep and management of the hall and WI hold a annual plant and cake sale which helps with the maintenance and insurance costs.

The Hall is well used by the local community for WI meetings, Parish Meetings and Council Meetings. It is also for voting by residents in national and local elections when it is set up as a polling station. It is also used for village and local community meetings, exhibitions, art groups, band practice, charity events like coffee mornings, fund raising church events and tea and cake for ‘open garden’ customers, This is very welcome as I can personally attest to after walking the village on a very hot afternoons looking at the very beautiful gardens that villagers maintain.

I believe that the WI is a very important organisation to the ladies of this village. Also their management and maintenance of the Trust Hall allows the building to be used for other village events which are important to the community.