Orwell Women's Institute 1923 to 2015

By Nancy Skipper

This account covers the period 1923 to Summer 2015 when the Institute was temporarily suspended owing to a lack of volunteers for committee posts. Happily, a new generation of ladies quickly roused support for continuation of the WI in Orwell and around 70 people attended a prelimary meeting in September 2015. Orwell WI is now firmly re-established under the banner 'Women of Orwell' and their news can be read in the Village Clubs & Societies category of Orwell Present.

The Women's Institute was founded by Adelaide Hoodless in Canada in 1897. She wanted to form an organisation where women could benefit from friendship and shared knowledge.  This idea was successful and a diplomat's wife brought it to the UK; the first Institute was started in Wales in 1915.

Orwell's Institute was founded in 1923

Photo:W.I. Picnic in Chapel Orchard with members from Wanstead W.I. 2011

W.I. Picnic in Chapel Orchard with members from Wanstead W.I. 2011

Photo:Orwell WI's first picnic, Manor Farm 1923

Orwell WI's first picnic, Manor Farm 1923

Orwell W.I. was formed in 1923 and continued to meet each month until May 2015, often playing an important part in the social life of the village. On May 18th 1923, this short paragraph appeared in the local paper:

"Orwell Women’s Institute  -  A Women’s Institute has been formed in Orwell under the Presidency of Mrs H. G. Peters, with Miss A. M. Snell as secretary and Miss Palmer as treasurer. Thirty—two members have been enrolled. The second monthly meeting, which was well attended, was held on May 11th in the Endowed School with the President in the chair. Mrs Whibley gave an interesting talk on ‘Life in China’ which was much appreciated, after which refreshments were served under the supervision of Mrs Friar, Mrs Betenson, Mrs E. Pearce, Mrs W. Scott and Miss Merry. There were a number of entries for the penny competition, a prize for which, the gift of Miss Merry, was won by Mrs H. Knight. Mrs C. E. Dunkin of Cambridge sang some charming songs, after which the meeting closed with the National Anthem."

Orwell WI's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations

Sixty years later, on Thursday April 14th 1983 members of Orwell Women's Institute assembled in the Village Hall (which was beautifully decorated with Spring flowers) for their Diamond Jubilee Celebration Dinner. Thirty three persons were present, including the guest speaker, Mrs Sylvia Lowe, Chairman of Cambridge Federation.

After a glass of sherry there was a jubilant start to the festivities with the singing of Jerusalem (which is not now a normal part of W.I. Procedure but it was deemed to be appropriate on this very special occasion).

A most enjoyable dinner, consisting of a menu of asparagus soup, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables,Black Forest gateau, cheese and biscuits and coffee followed.

Entertainment was provided by The Pied Pipers

Entertainment was provided by two extremely versatile and talented members of the Pied Pipers Amateur Dramatic Group, Mrs Jan Payne and Mr David Lingwood whose programme included songs from “The King and I”, a recital of one of Benjamin Brittain's “Six Metamorphases for Obo” and an arrangement by Mr Lingwood of the “Black and White Rag”. A medley of songs chosen especially for audience participation came next, although the performer's idea of the average age of a W.I. member may have been slightly distorted as only a small handful of the more mature ladies seemed to know the words of the first song! The evenings entertainment came to an end with the singing of “Old Lang Syne”.

The guest speaker, Mrs Sylvia Lowe(who was introduced by the newly elected President, Mrs Mair Summers as being a school governor, a member of Cambridge's Citizens Advice Bureau and Vice Chairman of the East of England Show Committee, as well as being the mother of four) began her talk with a description of life in England in the 1920's, with the absence of piped domestic water, wages of twenty five shillings a week and beer at a nostalgic one shilling(5p) a gallon. She emphasised the benefits that the W.I. Movement has given to women in this country in regard to broadening their horizons in general, extending and developing their skills to a high standard and in giving them the confidence to become members of Parish Councils and local committees, public speakers and more effective people within society. She stressed that today the NFWI is a body which is not overlooked by local and national government and that its opinion is frequently and actively sought.

Orwell WI members have always played an active part in village life

During the 50s members arranged a dinner every January in the Village Hall for all the pensioners in Orwell.

Sheila Dunn, our longest serving member, remembers collecting on behalf of the W.I. for the village Coronation celebrations in 1953 and in Spring 1987 we raised £910 by holding an auction, to pay for the making and erection of the village sign. 

Our 90th Birthday Celebrations

Photo:WI photo call for our 90th birthday

WI photo call for our 90th birthday

Peter Emmel

On April 11th 2013 we celebrated our Institute's 90th birthday with a buffet supper in Orwell Village Hall. Our committee had decorated the hall beautifully on a green and white theme - the WI colours - and they served an excellent supper prepared for us by a small catering company.  Joy Miller joined in 1963 and Sheila Dunn joined in 1952, they were the longest serving members present. They cut the lovely celebration cake baked and decorated for us by one of our youngest members, Sarah Reid.  

We had some interesting speakers in 2014, on topics including "The History of Marshall Airport". "The Pampered Chef" "The Story of Sugar" and "The Building of the Millennium Tower at St Edmund Cathedral".

Regretfully however, at our December meeting we suspended Orwell W.I. due to a shortage of members willing to take on the offices of President, Secretary and Treasurer. We ended the year with a dinner in the Village Hall attended by all our members and we hope that before too long new enthusiasts will emerge to revive our Institute.

Photo:Orwell members with the WI baton in October 2014,

Orwell members with the WI baton in October 2014,

This year, 2015 our National Federation is commemorating 100 years since the first W.I was formed. A baton is being taken to every W.I, in the country and our turn was in October 2014. We gathered beside the village sign to receive it. The baton will end its journey at the Royal Albert Hall in June when the AGM will take place.   


Photo:W.I. Celebration about 1988. County Representative, Addie Mitchell, Grace Flack, Peggy Miller & Mair Summers.
Photo:W.I. dinner in the sixties. County Representative, Joy Miller, Connie Arnold, Addie Mitchell & Peggy Miller.
Photo:WI Sketch, Harvest Supper, 1980s
Photo:Roger Daw tees off at WI Golf Evening, Whaddon, July 2009
Photo:Joy Miller (left) presents the prizes. Golf Evening July 2009
Photo:Cream tea at Nancy Skipper's house, June 2010
Photo:Orwell WI's first outing by bus
Photo:WI Golfers and partners at Whaddon Golf Club, June 2013
This gallery was added by Nancy Skipper on 23/10/2012.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.