50 years of WI fun and friendship

Nana (aka Mary Barrett) at a WI event.

The Women’s Institute (WI) movement has been inspiring women for over 100 years, providing opportunities to learn, to campaign and above all to connect socially with other women. This is the story of fifty years of fun and friendship enjoyed by Nana as a member of her local group, Farnley Estate WI.

Nana’s 50-year certificate. Own collection.

Nana was just twenty years old when she married Grandpy and moved away from her childhood home in Askwith to join her in-laws at their farm in Stainburn. It was 1948, petrol rationing was still in force. Jumping into a car to visit friends & family, even those just a few miles distant, was simply not an option.

Fortunately, Nana’s mother-in-law had a solution. What better way to introduce the Nana to some new friends than to take her along to a meeting of the WI? Farnley Estate had been formed just over a decade before and in that time had become an established part of the local social scene for women living in the villages of Farnley, Leathley and Stainburn. I doubt anyone guessed how much of a long-lived gift this turned out to be.

This photo, taken in Leathley Parish Room in 1977, is typical of Nana. She’s the woman in the red jacket (she was to pass her love of red onto her daughter, my Mum) with a beaming smile tucked away amongst the crowd. Photo from Daphne Baxter.

The Nana I knew was never one to seek the limelight and totally unconscious of how much she was liked and admired. Huddled in a warm coat and hat (village halls were draughty places) I imagine she stayed close to her mother-in-law through those first few meetings listening to “a demonstration of slipper making and rope soled shoes” and “travel talks from the dark continent.” I also imagine her quietly slipping into the kitchen at the end of the evening to help with any washing up.

It wasn’t long before Nana became more actively involved, entering the monthly competitions with some success. Her first listed win was for ginger biscuits in March 1949 and it’s no surprise that Nana, a dressmaker by trade, triumphed with her “apron from a shirt” in May 1950. Sadly, her entry in another 1950 competition “a perfect husband in 14 words” has been lost to time……

Photo of Farnley Estate WI’s 21st birthday celebrations at Leathley Grange, published in the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer on 29 August 1958. Nana is second from the left and my Mum is the child stood at the front right. Own collection.

In August 1958 Farnley Estate WI celebrated their 21st birthday in style at Leathley Grange making the front page in the local newspaper. Nana is standing second from the left in a wonderful polka dot dress which she likely made herself. My Mum, possibly toothless, is the little girl on the front right.

A WI jumble sale in 1989. Nana is on the right and the youthful one on the left is me! Own collection

This certainly wasn’t the last time Nana would involve her family in WI activities. As children we often went along to “waitress” at the legendary Teas on the Green, or my favourite, to help sort the clothes and bric-a-brac donated for jumble sales which meant being the first to spot a new jumper or book.

Then there were the outings which Nana loved, and this was where I was in for a wonderful surprise. I had a vague memory that Nana had once had a passport and may have even been on a plane. When you consider that my Mum, her daughter, reached her mid-thirties before taking her first flight it gives you a sense of quite how memorable this must have been. Yet between us we couldn’t remember the details. Leafing through Farnley Estate WI’s booklet “Celebrating 80 years” I came across a photo entitled “a member’s first experience of flying” and there in the middle of the trio boarding the plane was my Nana on her way to the tulip fields of Holland, which is coincidentally where my Mum is headed as I write this!

From the Farnley Estate WI booklet called “Celebrating 80 years.” Nana is the one in the middle.

Nana gave back as much as she received. She was voted onto the committee and was to hold the role of Treasurer although never President and it is not surprise that her commitment was honoured twice, close to the end. In 1997 she was chosen to accept Farnley Estate WI’s 60th birthday certificate Estate WI at the annual WI council meeting in Richmond, and then, in 1998 received a certificate for fifty years of continuous membership.

Sadly, this story of fun and friendship was to end just a few months later. The minutes from 1 February provide a final testament to the love and respect in which Nana was held by the WI.

A minutes silence was held in memory of Mary Barrett, who died suddenly yesterday morning. Members were very shocked and sad at the loss of a good friend and regular attender at WI meetings over the past 50 years”.

With much gratitude to Farnley Estate WI for the pleasure they gave my Nana and to Daphne Baxter & Sue Kerridge in particular for providing me with extra stories and materials, to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52ancestors challenge and Natalie Pithers and the curious descendents club for keeping me writing and of course to my Nana, who is much loved and missed.

3 Replies to “50 years of WI fun and friendship”

  1. I think the Women’s Institute sounds so much fun. It must be a bit like the CWA here in Australia. A place to make friendships, join in challenges and make many happy memories I think. Fabulous stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.