Bletchingley Women’s Institute (WI) in the Great War

Written by Linda Oliver, archivist of the Surrey Federation of WIs, using SHC ref 7610/2/1 (minute book).

Bletchingley WI was formed at a meeting in the village hall on 20 March 1917 and from the beginning, gardening was an important activity. At that first meeting Miss Bosanquet was asked to organise members to assist any Bletchingley women who needed help in the cultivation of their gardens. Over the next year she reported regularly on the work that was being done; sadly the minutes of the branch are very brief and no detail is given. The Annual Report for 1918 records that the WI’s allotment garden had been successful and that Miss Bosanquet and Mrs Ashley had also looked after the garden of Glenfield House.

In April 1917 a small sub-committee was formed to discuss the question of a Welfare Committee for the village, but no further mention of this idea occurs.

At the May meeting, Miss Hilliard gave a talk on War Savings and a Waste Paper collection was inaugurated, with sorting to be done at Church House, with local schoolboys being made responsible for house-to-house collections. The Annual Report for 1917-1918 records that £1-5s-1 ½d was raised by these collections for the District Nurses’ Fund.

In July 1917 Mrs Edwards Webb, a Surrey County Council Lecturer, gave a lecture and demonstration of fruit and vegetable bottling and jam making. She returned in May and July 1918 to give further demonstrations of fruit canning and pulping. The Annual Report for 1918 records the purchase of a fruit canner to assist in the preservation of the gooseberries and currants from the Glenfield House garden, but generally the fruit crop was poor that year and the canner was underused.

At the beginning of 1918 the District Council asked the WI Committee to consider the question of a communal kitchen. Mrs Wood was requested to discover if a suitable place could be found and the Committee was to make further enquiries from established National Kitchens. Subsequently they decided to canvass the village to discover how much support would be given to such a project. The canvassing was to be done by the War-Loan Collectors. Two parish councillors, Mr Tobilt[?] and Mr Ashdown, would attend the meeting to receive the reports and discuss the matter. It was found that public feeling was slightly in favour of the National Kitchen but no suitable place had been found. The Committee decided to write to the Parish Council expressing the willingness of the WI to manage the kitchen if a suitable place was found. Thereafter no mention is made in the minutes, but the minutes for 1919 are missing or may never have been taken as the WI had an uncertain few months.

(Glenfield House is/was at 29 High Street. Map in Bletchingley Village and Parish by Peter Gray (SHC Ref 7185/11/6) shows it between Melrose Cottage and The Cobbles, south side of the High Street facing the Old Market Place: ‘Glenfield House is the most imposing house on the High Street, dates from early 18th C, part of the Clayton estate’.)

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