Helmdon WI Branch History 1921-2000

Helmdon has had a branch of the Women's Institute since 1921. In February, 1921, Canon Bartlett (a well-remembered rector from 1919 to 1936), and his sisters, called a meeting to discuss forming a Women's Institute. When a Mrs Louise Holloway in the village was asked to join she said that she was not interested, but she was told in no uncertain terms that it was her duty to become a member.

The first meeting was held in March 1921 and the subscription was two shillings. April was the highlight meeting. A neighbouring WI was invited and Miss Barnes (head teacher of Helmdon primary school 1918 - 1947) closed the school early and took the children to entertain members. On one occasion, Mrs Holloway recollected, Lady Knightly, the county president came, and on several occasions, Mrs Barker, the county secretary, who travelled by train from Moulton to Northampton and thence to Helmdon. She was met by the Falcutt House chauffeur, and lunched there with Mrs Lees. After the meeting, she returned by train.

During the war, meetings were held in the afternoon because of lighting up. A work party, mainly a knitting session, was held once a week. Once a canning day was held at Falcutt House laundry because it had running water. Members supplied fruit and the Ministry of Food supplied sugar. Members were each allowed to buy two cans. Once the labels got mixed and up and Mrs Nell Duncombe remembers that she got a wrongly labelled can. Jam making sessions were held Stone House. Helmdon was allocated 1 cwt of sugar, the jam being made for the ministry. Once in the early days Freddie Whitlock took the WI to a matinée performance at the theatre. They went in an open top cart and when they came home it was snowing.

Meetings today are monthly, with subjects as diverse as a the reminiscences of a retired county coroner, the background to the making of her books by a children's author, and tea towels from A-Z from a gentleman who had a grand passion for his collection. More practical skills are not forgotten. We have cookery demonstrations, flower arranging evenings, and recently we had an evening making pots at a ceramics studio. We always enjoy our annual garden party, harvest suppers or our own making, occasional meals out, and outings, whether to local attractions such as a working windmill, or a coach visit farther away, for example, to Rochester in Kent. Several times a year we cater for lunches or teas for visiting groups, and we invariably have a stall at the village Carnival, and enter a float (with several prizes to our credit). County competitions entered include a short story competition and a duologue writing and acting competition. We have also taken part in choir competitions at county level, and indeed, in the 1960s, Helmdon had members in the South Northants choir, conducted by Doris Clark, which reached the national finals.

As a Millennium project the WI members of 1999-2000 recorded their own thoughts and memories of their lives. The book, illustrated with photographs, was compiled in the hope that it would be a pleasant and interesting record of the people who have come from all walks of life to join together to make up the Helmdon Women's Institute as it continues to be a force in the twenty first century.